In last week’s primary election, Minnesota voters and election officials experienced what voting looks like amid a pandemic.
The primary was a good trial run to prepare for the Nov. 3 general election. Voters can act now to ensure everyone votes and every vote counts in November.
Just like stores and restaurants, polling places instituted health and safety measures. Voting required wearing a mask, election judges worked behind plastic barriers and voters were asked to socially distance. Workers constantly disinfected surfaces such as voting booths and door handles and sanitized pens. These practices slowed things down a bit. In the primary, about 27 percent of registered voters voted with a higher percentage than usual using early and absentee voting. More about those options later. Minnesotans usually lead the nation in voter turnout with more than 70 percent participation so a few easy steps will make voting easier and faster for the much larger turnout expected on Nov. 3.
First, make sure you are registered. Go to MNvotes.org and click on the Register to Vote link. On the website, you can check to see if you are registered as well as view a sample ballot. You can register at the polls, but that takes more time than if you are already registered. Also take time to check your polling place. Because of Covid-19 restrictions in schools and other typical polling locations, your polling place may have moved.
You don’t have to wait until election day to vote. There are several options for early voting. Beginning on Friday, Sept. 18, you can vote early in person at the county election office. That option continues through Monday, Nov. 2. Absentee voting locations must be open during normal business hours and must be open the last Saturday before the election from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The last week before the election, in-person early voting also takes place at your local city hall or at the Stearns County License Center or Courthouse.
Donald Trump has created much confusion and conflict about the safety and security of voting by mail. However, assertions of widespread voter fraud can’t be backed up by facts. In data collected in three vote-by-mail states, the Electronic Registration Information Center found officials identified just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.
Voting by mail is not a new idea. Oregonians have voted by mail for more than 20 years. Colorado, Hawaii, Utah and Washington conduct all elections entirely by mail. Right here in Stearns County, 12 small cities and 19 township precincts conduct their elections by mail.
For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.
Trump has wrongly confused absentee voting with voting by mail, not surprising because he and his family vote absentee. In Minnesota, the process to handle the ballots and count the votes is the same for voting early in person or requesting an absentee ballot and returning it by mail. Any voter in Minnesota can vote early by absentee ballot, regardless of whether they will be home on Election Day.
To request a ballot so you can vote early by mail, go to MNvotes.org and click on the Other Ways to Vote.
With rising concern about the Postal Service’s ability to deliver the mail in a timely manner, you can return your completed ballot in person to the county election offices. You may not drop off your ballot at your polling place on election day.
If you decide to return your ballot by mail, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day (Nov. 3) and received by your county within the next seven calendar days (Nov. 10). You may also send your ballot via a package delivery service such as FedEx or UPS.
You can track the progress of your ballot at MNvotes.org as well.
Laws passed by the Minnesota Legislature and procedures set up by the Minnesota Secretary of State assure voting is easy and secure for every eligible Minnesotan to vote, even during a public health crisis.