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Mail-in ballots -- don't leave them hanging

Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen has an election alert for voters who live in one of the 11 rural Becker County precincts that now use mail-in balloting: you should have received a ballot in the mail by now, and if you haven't, you need to take action quickly.

Election Tuesday is only nine days away, and the ballot has to be received by the Auditor-Treas-urer's Office by Nov, 7 in order to be counted -- postmarks don't count, it has to be mailed early enough to get there by Election Day.

The precincts that no longer have local polling places, but instead rely on mail-in balloting are the city of Ogema and the townships of Atlanta, Callaway, Evergreen, Forest, Hamden, Riceville, Round Lake, Spring Creek, Walworth and Wolf Lake.

Most have fewer than 100 registered voters, Tangen said, and most people have received their ballots. But those who have changed addresses since the last election may not have received a ballot, he said.

"We've already mailed them out." He said last week, "so if they don't have a ballot yet, they need to contact us -- either call in or stop in -- they still have the option of voting here at the courthouse." The phone number is 846-7301.

"If they moved and are re-registering, they may want to make sure they are registering for the right precinct," or their vote won't count, he said.

Absentee voting opened Oct. 6, and people can vote during regular hours at the courthouse from now until Election Day.

"They can come in and vote at the window," Tangen said. "Mail ballot precincts aren't a lot different than absentee balloting except initially all registered voters receive a ballot -- they don't have to fill out an application ... Most people, if they are in town anyway, just stop by and vote at the courthouse -- that ensures their vote will be counted for the election."

If people vote at the courthouse, which is considered the home polling place for mail-in precincts, their vote is witnessed at the window, Tangen said. They can also vote at the courthouse on Election Day itself. Absentee voting closes the day before.

If people vote from home, a witness's signature is required, and each ballot must be sent in its own envelope, even if there are several from the same family, Tangen said. That's to prevent one person in the family filling all the ballots out and mailing them in against the others' wishes, he said.

In those rare situations where the ballot changes close to Election Day, for instance, when U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone died, mail-in voters will be able to re-cast their vote, and the most recent ballot will be the one counted, Tangen said.

While it's handy, the downside of voting by mail-in ballot is that "if not all items are completed properly, the ballot is rejected," Tangen said. During a primary election, for example, if a voter crosses party lines in partisan races, that portion of the ballot is not counted. That happened with several Becker County mail-in ballots.

Voting machines, on the other hand, will catch the mistake and kick out the ballot, allowing the voter to fix their mistake.

The AutoMark voting machine is available at the courthouse for absentee voting from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The courthouse will also be open for voting Saturday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and voting will be open until 5 p.m. on Nov. 6., the day before the election.