From the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office last week came the news that Minnesotans are on a record pace for voting with absentee ballots.
As of Oct. 11, 223,688 absentee ballots have been requested by Minnesota voters and 85,438 have been accepted by election officials. According to state officials, the request rate is 209 percent more than the same time during 2014’s midterm election and the rate of accepted ballots is an increase of 221 percent.
Since 2014 all county election offices have offered “in-person” absentee voting in addition to requesting a ballot by mail.
We’ve all read polls about which party’s voters are more passionate about this year’s election, leading to speculation about a high turnout. Minnesota typically leads the nation in turnout, with about 75 percent of eligible voters having gone to the polls in 2016. Midterm turnout is generally lower, but turnout in the August Minnesota primary doubled the turnout from four years ago.
I’ve paid more attention than normal to voting issues this election year because I’m an election judge. Now that my wife, Marian, and I are semi-retired, we have the time to do jobs and hobbies that we’ve always talked about doing. Being an election judge is one of those pursuits.
We worked the primary election in August and for the next few weeks we’re both helping with absentee ballots. Whether you’re filing an absentee ballot or you’re going to the polls on election day, I’d like to offer some advice.
Stearns County, like most Minnesota counties, added iPads to register and check in voters, replacing the thick paper printout of eligible voters. The veteran judges I worked with during the primary say the iPads speeded up the process.
When you arrive at the polling place, you’ll give the election judge your name, the judge will look up your registration and you’ll be asked to verify your address. The judge will hand you a form for you to sign to get a ballot. By signing, you are swearing you are who you say you are and that you’re eligible to vote.
The iPads are equipped with a scanner that reads the bar code on your driver’s license. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PRODUCE A PHOTO ID TO VOTE. But if you hand the judge your license, the check-in process goes a bit faster.
The slowest time at the polls is early afternoon so if you have a flexible schedule, aim for that time.
You can also speed up casting your vote with these tips:
First, make sure you are in the correct polling location for your ward or precinct. Especially if you haven’t voted for a while, your polling place may have moved even if you haven’t. While ward and precinct lines haven’t been redrawn since after the 2010 Census, there may be a new polling place. And don’t assume you vote in the same place as your neighbor across the street or a block away. If you go to the wrong place, an election judge will direct you to the correct polling place, but you’ll waste time.
Know your candidates before you arrive. All polling places post sample ballots, but it’s best to be prepared. You can look up a sample ballot online (more about that below). Most voters are aware of high-profile races such as governor or senator, but there are many races that don’t get much news coverage such as judges and soil-and-water conservation commissioners.
Don’t wait until you reach the polling place to research your ballot and end up using your smartphone to learn about candidates as you wait to vote.
You can register at the polls on election day. You have to prove you’re eligible to vote and that you live in the ward or precinct. There are a number of ways to satisfy this requirement. Bring a valid Minnesota driver’s license, learner’s permit or ID or a receipt for any of these or a Tribal ID with name, address, photo and signature.
If you don’t have a state-issued ID with your current address, there’s another option. Bring a driver’s license, passport, military or school ID AND one other document proving your residence such as a utility bill, bank statement, rent or mortgage receipt or lease. Junk mail from a cable or cell phone provider addressed to you doesn’t count.
If you don’t have any of these documents, a registered voter from your precinct may vouch for you. They will be asked to sign an oath confirming your address.
More details on election-day registration and your other voting questions can be answered online at mnvotes.org, a website run by the Secretary of State. You can find a sample ballot, view candidate filings, find your polling place, learn about early voting and how to contact your county election office.
In Stearns County, call 320-656-3920 or visit co.stearns.mn.us/Government/Elections.
I hope all eligible voters exercise their most important right on Nov. 6. With a little preparation you’ll have a smooth trip to the polls.
I’m looking forward to Minnesota again leading the way for voter turnout.