By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – An edgy America has been warned by its president that the coming election will be “rigged” and “fraudulent.” U.S. intelligence and congressional sources say that nefarious foreign sources are seeking a redux of the 2016 interference. And there has been widespread media speculation that a winner in the presidential race may not be known for days, or even weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson tells Howey Politics Indiana that she has confidence in the process, both in Indiana and nationally. She said in response to written questions from HPI that foreign actors have “scanned” the state’s election systems but likened it to a “burglar rattling doorknobs.”

Lawson says there is “no evidence” of any widespread voting fraud and says that the state’s long-time absentee voting system remains “safe and secure.”

As for when Hoosiers and Americans will learn who won on Nov. 3, she said that counties can begin to count absentee ballots at noon on Election Day. “My colleagues and I across the nation know just how important it is for Americans to have faith in the electoral process,” Lawson said. “We know there may be some uncertainty on Election Night as we wait for results. We will work together to reassure America that the delay is the result of a change in process and the outcome will reflect the will of American voters.”

Or as former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats writes in a New York Times op-ed this morning, “The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture.”

Last week, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies conducted seminars on what it described as potentially “The Weirdest Election Night Ever.”

Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, noted that the wire service has been conducting ballot counting and calling races since 1848 with the introduction of telegraph. She said the AP will be deploying 3,000 people to gather results, monitor swing counties, and conduct exit result polling that will include monitoring early and mail-in voters.

“We have a massive team of stringers who will be in touch with county election officials,” Pace said. “If it’s going to be close in these battleground states, it will be slower,” she said of the tabulation process. “With mail-in voters, it will be slower. A slow count doesn’t mean that something has gone wrong. We really need to make our readers aware, explaining now that slow count does not mean fraud.”

Asked about the perception divide between Fox News and CNN, Pace said that “AP is working with Fox as well, using the same data. My expectation is Election Night is going to look the same on Fox as it will on other channels.”

But Cook Political Report national editor Amy Walter said that “conspiracy theories on social media” will convince some to “believe there is something going on. It does not help that the president of the United States is continually questioning the process.”

Drew McCoy, president of Decision Desk HQ, an election results and data collection and reporting service, said, “When you see lead changes, it’s not like a footrace. The votes are there. The count and lead change … is just an artifact of the order of counting. I would really like to get away from lead change. The winner is there, we’re just discovering it. It may take longer, but it’s not nefarious.”

FiveThirtyEight election analyst Geoffrey Skelley explained, “One of the great challenges is we’re not going to have data as quickly. We need data to make judgments. With less data on Election Night, we’ll have to be careful. It’s very possible that Trump will lead all or most of battleground states on election night. That doesn’t mean he will win them.”

Joe Lenski is co-founder and executive vice president of Edison Research, which under his supervision currently conducts all exit polls for the major news organizations comprising the National Election Pool (NEP) – ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. “We’ve had more changes this year than over the last 32 years combined,” Lenski said. “We have implemented safety precautions.”

Lenski pointed to Florida and North Carolina as swing states “that process large numbers of votes. If you see a clear trend in those two states, we may know on Election Night. If it’s close, it may take days if not weeks.”

He pointed to the primary in New York CD27 in last summer’s special election. On Election Night, the Republican was leading by 31%. When the vote-by-mail was counted, the Republican won by 5%. “We are seeing a partisan divide in how people vote more than ever before,” Lenski said. “More Biden voters are voting by mail and more Trump voters on Election Day.”

“We’re not going to see a systemwide meltdown,” Lenski added, “but there are certain states or a certain county in a key state that may struggle. Where it falls down ... that will cast a spotlight in that location.”

When will voters likely know the presidential race winner?

McCoy said, “It’s unlikely on Election Night, but probably sometime Wednesday.” Lenski again pointed to Florida and North Carolina as early bellwethers, but added that if Biden is leading Florida by 7% to 8%, we’ll likely know the winner earlier than if the Democrat is up by 2%.

Walter suggests the results will be known “by the weekend,” though she expressed concern about the expected late counting of votes in Pennsylvania. Skelley suggested the results will take “a few days” before we know whether Trump or Biden won.

Secretary Lawson told HPI, “It’s hard to give an exact time. It will come down to how long it takes for counties to count absentee ballots.” She expects that results from Indianapolis won’t be known on Election Day, but expects the other 91 counties will be able to finish on Nov. 3.

Here is our HPI Interview  with Sec. Lawson:

HPI: President Trump has repeatedly said (as recently as Sunday night in Nevada) that this will be a “rigged” and “fraudulent” election. What is your assessment?

Lawson: We have seen no evidence to support this.

HPI: The Presidential Commission on Election Integrity existed for almost a year between 2017 and 2018. Did it uncover any evidence of election fraud?

Lawson: The commission met twice. The first meeting was introductory and the second was to learn about MS-ISAC, the multi-state information sharing program. To my knowledge, that is the extent of the work done.

HPI: There have been media reports that Russia, China and Iran are attempting to influence the U.S. election. Have any nefarious entities tried and/or succeeded in accessing any element – state or local – in the Indiana election system?

Lawson:
The influence campaigns are focused on changing opinions via social media. We do know that our statewide voter registration system (SVRS) is scanned on a regular basis. This is the equivalent of a burglar rattling door knobs to see if a door is open. We have intrusion detection systems in place to protect SVRS at the state and county level. We are really proud of our work to provide every county in the state with an intrusion protection system that protects not only elections but the entire county. And as you know, voting machines are not connected to the internet.

HPI: Are you confident in the integrity of Indiana’s absentee ballot system? If so, why?

Lawson: Yes, Indiana has offered voters absentee voting in person and by mail for many years. Our system is safe and secure. We have checks and balances in place. For in-person absentee voting, often referred to as early voting, voters must show a photo ID. For absentee by-mail, there are bipartisan teams that review the signatures. If there is a discrepancy in signature, the voter is contacted and given the opportunity correct the issue.

HPI: Are you confident the United States Postal Service has the capacity to handle the increase in use of vote by mail?

Lawson: I am, but I encourage Hoosiers who want to vote by mail to apply for a ballot today and to return their ballot to the county right away. Don’t delay.

HPI: You mentioned at Gov. Holcomb’s weekly briefing a few weeks ago that up to 1.8 million Hoosiers are expected to vote absentee. What impact will that volume have on the process?

Lawson: Many counties are getting additional absentee teams to process the increased volume. The increased volume may delay when we get election results.

HPI: When do you expect absentee ballots to be counted, after the polls close?

Lawson: Counties can begin counting absentee ballots at noon on Election Day. I expect that many will begin counting right at noon.

HPI: When do you expect final results to be announced in Indiana?

Lawson: It’s hard to give an exact time. It will come down to how long it takes for counties to count absentee ballots. I don’t expect Marion County to be done on Election Day. However, I am optimistic that a majority of the other counties will be able to get their absentees counted.

HPI: Are there any county election systems that are causing you concern, as Marion County did during the primary?

Lawson: I think county clerks are doing their best to be as prepared as possible for Election Day and really election month. The county clerks are some of the hardest working people in government and I have the utmost faith in their ability to carry out smooth elections statewide.

HPI: Election and media experts are saying it could be days or weeks before Americans know who won the presidential race. What role will you and other state election officials play to uphold the integrity in the election process?

Lawson: My colleagues and I across the nation know just how important it is for Americans to have faith in the electoral process. We know there may be some uncertainty on Election Night as we wait for results. We will work together to reassure America that the delay is the result of a change in process and the outcome will reflect the will of American voters.