Minnesota encouraging voting by mail this year
Worried about Election Day crowds and COVID-19? Consider voting by absentee ballot for the Aug. 11 Minnesota primary and the Nov. 3 general election.
The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office is making it as easy as possible: Eligible Minnesota voters can now apply for absentee ballots using the department’s online absentee ballot request tool .
The tool allows registered voters to request that their ballot be sent to them by mail.
“We need to treat the upcoming statewide elections as a public health issue," said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon. "To slow the spread of COVID-19 we need to reduce large gatherings, including at polling places. I’m challenging all eligible Minnesota voters to cast their vote from the safety of their home.”
County election workers now have two weeks, instead of just one week, to count the absentee ballots prior to Election Day, thanks to a change in Minnesota law, said Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Mary Hendrickson.
“We will need more election judges to come into the courthouse to count them, but it’s doable, we’ll get it done,” she said.
“We heard loud and clear from cities and townships and counties that they need extra time to count the ballots,” Simon said in a telephone interview. “Seven days was not enough time. They asked for an extra week, we backed them up, and the Legislature gave them that.”
The League of Women Voters of the Detroit Lakes Area endorses absentee voting by mail to protect not just voters, but also the volunteer election judges, said local League president Terry Kalil.
Election judges are often retired people, and people age 60 and over are most at risk of negative outcomes from COVID-19, she said.
Voting by mail will protect the voter and the judges, and those who vote in person may experience longer-than-normal lines at polling places -- and longer travel time to polling sites if some are closed -- if there is a shortage of volunteer election officials this year, she said.
Kalil herself said she easily completed an online request for absentee ballots for both the primary and general elections by going to mnvotes.org at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.
For those who are not yet registered voters, “you can register and apply for absentee ballots at the same time, they’re instantaneous,” she said. “You don’t need an excuse, you can do it right now,” she said. “It’s a whole lot more convenient, without really any risk.”
Voters willing to vote in person can also cast an absentee ballot at the Becker County Courthouse, starting June 26 for the Aug. 11 primary election.
Concerns about voter fraud?
President Donald Trump has become a vociferous critic of voting by mail, claiming in numerous Twitter messages that it will lead to widespread voter fraud. And he is no friend to the U.S. Postal Service: Trump has said he would not approve a $10 billion pandemic relief loan for the post office unless it quadruples rates on shippers like Amazon and Federal Express.
But in spite of it all, Simon said he expects the post office to be able to handle absentee ballots as usual. It’s much less of a crush than the postal service routinely handles at Christmas, he said.
“We haven’t yet heard any danger of an overall breakdown in the postal service,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that some people have the mistaken idea that voting at home by absentee ballot makes fraud more likely -- that just isn’t true,” Simon added. “There is no example in Minnesota of anything like this happening.”
There were concerns at the Legislature about mailbox theft, he added, “but that’s not the way the system ever worked or works now,” he said. “Personal identification is needed and always will be needed -- a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number.” And if an absentee ballot were to go missing, “the intended voter will always be able to get a new ballot,” he said.
Because of the way the system is set up, it would be extremely difficult to use a stolen ballot to cast a vote, according to the Becker County Auditor-treasurer’s Office.
Here’s why: On the application for an absentee ballot, a voter must provide identification, such as a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Once the requested absentee ballot is received by the voter in the mail, the voter shows the blank ballot to a witness (anyone registered to vote in Minnesota, including a relative, friend or spouse) or a notary public. The voter then fills out the ballot in secret, puts it in a tan-colored “secrecy” envelope and seals it.
No name or identification is put on the ballot itself, or on the secrecy envelope, so that the right to a secret ballot is preserved.
That secrecy envelope then goes into a white “signature” envelope, on which is written the name and address of the voter and the witness or notary public. The voter also signs a short oath.
So the sealed secrecy envelope goes into a sealed signature envelope which then goes into a sealed return envelope to be mailed or delivered to the courthouse.
Election workers then compare the signatures and other information on the absentee ballot request form with the information and signatures on the signature envelope.
Each absentee ballot is opened by the ballot board at the courthouse in front of two election judges from two different political parties to ensure there is no political bias affecting the count.
Kalil said any talk of widespread voter fraud is simply untrue. “The League strongly supports voting by mail,” she said. “All evidence from Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Washington, even the five or six townships in Becker County that vote by mail, shows zero evidence of fraud,” she said.
“In the face of this pandemic, it is the right thing to do to protect Minnesotans who are most at risk -- and the people who care for them,” Simon said. “Fortunately, it’s very easy to do."