A quarter of Becker County voters already have ballots
One absentee ballot request is enough, and other tips about voting in the Nov. 3 election.
Before the courthouse even opened on Friday, Sept. 18, people were lined up to vote absentee in the general election -- and things haven’t slowed down much since, said Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Mary Hendrickson.
How eager are people to vote this year? “On Friday (Sept. 18) at 7:45 a.m., we had a run (on the office)” she said. “The building doesn’t even open until 8 a.m., but the (security) screeners were here, we were here, so we let them in,” she said.
As of Thursday, Sept. 24, the county had already sent out about 5,000 ballots, an impressive start for the 19,761 registered voters in Becker County.
About 3,000 of those ballots were mailed out routinely to voters in the county’s 15 precincts that vote only by mail-in ballot, and the other 2,000 went to people wanting to vote absentee, Hendrickson said.
“So almost a quarter of registered voters in the county have had ballots mailed out to them,” Hendrickson said Thursday.
Her office is averaging 40 absentee ballot requests a day, twice the usual number, she said.
“We did actually order extra ballots, because requests have been so strong,” she said, “and we have extra help brought in,” to handle the workload. Four temporary workers are now helping with the election process in her office, she said.
One absentee ballot request is enough
Their work would be easier if people would quit sending in multiple applications for the same absentee ballot. “Here, locally, we want everyone to vote, but we’re only going to let you vote once,” Hendrickson said.
Political parties, voting advocacy groups and even the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office are helpfully mailing out absentee ballot application forms. They are designed to help people vote safely by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the onslaught is confusing some people, who are sending in multiple absentee ballot applications to the county.
“People are calling us and saying “why are you sending me three of these (absentee ballot request) cards? Stop sending me this stuff,” Hendrickson said. “But it’s not coming from us. It’s the political parties doing it, not the Auditor’s Office.”
Others grow impatient waiting for their absentee ballot to arrive in the mail, and head over to the courthouse to vote absentee in person instead at the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office.
They go home disappointed.
“If they have requested it (a ballot) and then come to the window to vote, we tell them we already mailed it,” Hendrickson said. “Everyone just gets one ballot.”
The Auditor-Treasurer’s Office carefully tracks absentee ballot requests. They are time stamped, date stamped, initialled, and logged into the state’s election system, said Tanya Hockett, an elections specialist at the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office. Subsequent applications from the same person are not entered into the state system, but are filed at the county office.
“It doesn’t matter if you send in five applications, you’re only getting one ballot,” Hendrickson said.
Don’t skip questions on the ballot application
It’s important to fill in all seven questions on the absentee ballot application, including No. 5, the address where you live, and No. 6, the address where your absentee ballot should be sent, Hockett said. It may seem repetitive, but fill them both in, she said.
Otherwise, problems can occur. For example, she said, some rural residents don’t have home delivery and instead pick up their mail at a post office box.
Their home address is necessary for county staff to know which ballot to send them, since ballots are different depending on local races, city ward boundaries, county commissioner districts, and legislative and congressional districts.
The post office box, or mailing address, is necessary to get their ballot delivered.
So fill in all seven questions and make sure to sign and date the absentee ballot application to avoid problems, she said.
The signature is important, because when you fill in your absentee ballot and mail it back in the special signature envelope, “the signature on the application form you just filled out and the one on the ballot you just filled out should match,” Hendrickson said. “We don’t use 40-year-old signatures.”
She made a point of saying that because some older voters have voiced concerns about their current signatures not matching their signatures from when they first started voting.
“There’s so much misinformation or misrepresentation out there, just like with COVID, we don’t want people to panic,” Hendrickson said.
Track your absentee ballot online
People can track their absentee ballot’s progress through the system online at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office -- kind of like a package can be followed through the shipping process at UPS or the Post Office, Hendrickson said.
“When your ballot is issued, it’s recorded in the process,” she said. “When your ballot is received, it’s recorded in the process.”
You can track the status of your ballot and confirm that it was received and counted.
The local Ballot Board, consisting of seasoned representatives of the two main political parties, and county staff, has been meeting twice a week to verify that the application identification (usually a driver’s license number and the last four digits of a Social Security number) matches the ballot ID, Hendrickson said. “If there’s a discrepancy, they’ll look at the signatures,” she said.
Don’t vote twice
President Donald Trump earlier this month urged his supporters to vote absentee and then vote again in person, to test the system.
Don’t do it, Hendrickson said. That’s against state and federal law, and violators will be referred to the Becker County Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
“It won’t let us give one person two ballots, the system locks up,” Hendrickson said. “We turn it over to the county attorney. It’s a misdemeanor. Who wants to risk a criminal record?”
The system is computerized, and if a person has voted absentee and tries to vote again in person, a “big black ‘AB’ shows up on the roster that you already voted,” Hendrickson said. “Poll workers will tell you you can’t sign because you already voted.”
It’s very rare, but it has happened in Becker County and it was criminally investigated, she said. The last incident involved a father and son with the same name, one of whom voted absentee and the other who accidentally signed on the wrong place on the roster when voting in person.
“I’m confident the system is secure,” Hendrickson said. “People will get caught if they vote twice, and they will get prosecuted.”
Forget Election Day, it’s now Election Week
In general, voters need to realize there is plenty of time, Hendrickson said.
“There’s 45 days -- people have 45 days to vote,” she said. “You can vote in person (at the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office), you can vote by mail, or you can vote at the polls on Election Day. The polls will still be open regular hours.”
In fact, ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 will be counted if they arrive within seven days after Election Day.
So brace yourself -- the results may very well not be known until a week after Election Day in Minnesota. The process can also take as long or longer in other states, so the final vote tally in the presidential election will not be known for several weeks after Election Day.
Properly postmarked ballots were accepted for three days after the Aug. 11 primary election, Hendrickson said. More than 80 ballots came in during those three days and were counted.
The general election in a presidential election year can easily bring out three or four times as many voters as the primary election, with plenty of procrastinators among them. “We’re expecting 80% turnout,” Hendrickson said.
So Minnesota voters may want to mail in their absentee ballots by mid-October to minimize any post-Election Day suspense.
Ballot ‘drop box’ will be set up at courthouse
One way to make sure an absentee ballot gets to the courthouse before Election Day is to use a new ballot drop box, to be set up 10 days before Election Day in the courthouse lobby -- under the eyes of security screeners at the main entrance.
If time is running short, voters can bypass the post office and deliver ballots to the drop box in person. “You must sign the form when you drop it off -- the drop box must be monitored,” Hendrickson said.
There has also been talk this election season about “poll watchers,” assigned by political parties to monitor polling place activity on Election Day. “We have not been contacted by either (major) party about poll watchers,” Hendrickson said. “They have to contact the Auditor’s Office first.”
In general, Hendrickson said, her office is available to help county residents with any election-related concerns. “Any questions, give us a call or send us an email,” she said. “We’ll be here for the duration to help them through the process.”