Minnesota election officials talks voter intimidation, election issues with Lakes-area League of Women Voters
Around 1.4 million Minnesotans have requested their mail-in ballots for the 2020 election, only 300,000 requests were made in 2016 during the same time period. Simon also stressed that election results in close races may not be decided until the last absentee ballots are counted after Nov. 10, but is hopeful a majority of contests are decided on, or close to, election day.
Minnesota's top election official outlined the rules for poll watchers and touted mail-in voting numbers during a virtual meeting with members of the Lakes-area chapter of the League of Women Voters on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
The meeting with Secretary of State Steve Simon was held to take questions from members and update the organization with information unique to the 2020 election such as: voting-by-mail, voter intimidation, and election expectations for the voting results.
"There is this sense . . . that voting from home this year, in some senses, is a public service because every person who chooses to vote from home this year is making the polling place just a little bit safer for all the folks who choose that equally worthy option of voting in the polling place," Simon said.
Another aspect of the 2020 election that is unique, Simon said, is the state courts have ruled that, only for this election, if a voter has their mail-in ballot postmarked by election day on Nov. 3, that ballot has seven days to arrive to its destination by Tuesday Nov. 10. However, that also means the state will not have all of its ballots counted until after Nov. 10, which may delay election results if races become too-close-to-call.
- Guide to Detroit Lakes school board candidates
- Guide to Detroit Lakes area legislative candidates
- Meet Detroit Lakes mayoral and council candidates
Simon said they are addressing this potential problem by tracking the number of outstanding absentee ballots by each Minnesota House District, which will give election officials a better idea if there are enough outstanding votes to make up the difference in a close race.
"I predict that the vast majority of contests, we will know the winners, we will know the outcomes sooner rather than later, either on election night, or shortly thereafter," said Simon.
Lakes-area League of Women Voters members also had the opportunity to question Simon about issues they felt were important, such as, election cybersecurity and how to approach "poll watchers."
Terry Kalil, president of the Lakes-area LWV, asked about election cybersecurity concerns, since Minnesota was one of the 21 states whose election systems were targeted by a foreign government in 2016.
"It's kind of a race without a finish line," said Simon. "There is no end zone dance at the end . . . you just got to stay one step ahead of the bad guys all the time, and never stop. That's a little daunting because they get smarter every year."
Simon reiterated that the system worked and the bad actors were not allowed in, but also said it was a "sobering thing" for our state to be targeted by foreign actors. However, one of the benefits of our state's voting system, he said, is that Minnesota uses paper ballots, which allows for a better auditing process, if needed. Simon also said his most recent intelligence briefing reported no "existing, or specific threat" against Minnesota's polling locations.
One LWV member asked Simon, "For these 'poll watchers,' 'challenger people' that need to register, how do they do that, and as a poll worker, do we know who is legitimately allowed?"
There is no requirement to register in advance, said Simon. "They can show up on Election Day with a letter in hand, it's got to be a written designation, and you just have to use your best judgment on whether it is real, they are real . . . but it has to be a letter from a political party unit."
According to Simon, Minnesota law states every major political party in the state is allowed one official "challenger" per polling place and they must be designated in writing by a state, county, or local party unit. That challenger must stay 6 feet away all voters and is not allowed to talk to a voter. Simon said challenges made against a voter's eligibility must be made in writing and be based on personal knowledge of the potential violation.
"What is not fine is to base a challenge on a hunch, a whim, a guess, a question, a bad-vibe, that is just simply not enough," said Simon. "You cannot say, 'hey, what a minute, I just don't get a good feeling about her,' or, 'I heard that guy speaking a language other than English in the hallway, he can't be a citizen.' I'm sorry, but that, on its face, is unacceptable under Minnesota law and that law will be strictly enforced."
He said Minnesota has a safety perimeter around each polling place entrance of 100 feet where only election administrators, or voters may enter. At 101 feet, he said, voter intimidation claims are determined by a variety of factors and may be handled by law enforcement, if called to a polling place to handle a dispute.
At the end of the meeting, Kalil thanked Simon for making the Minnesota election system "one of the very best in the country." She then told the group that she had taken part in two different recounts as an impartial observer and said, "I like that I have the confidence to say, I know our system works and that there isn't fraud going on."
Simon said he expects around 3 million voters to cast ballots in the state during this election and, after being pressed by group members, predicted Minnesota will once again lead the country in voter turnout percentage, which it has done in 2016 and 2018. He also reported 1.4 million Minnesotans have requested absentee ballots as of Friday, Oct. 16. In 2016, during the same period, fewer than 300,000 people had requested absentee ballots.