The November 3 election is 32 days away, but many voters are already casting ballots, thanks to early in-person and by-mail voting.
Early voting is nothing new in Minnesota — it’s been allowed without excuses since 2014. But this year, it’s a little different. For one thing, there’s a push for more of it, in an effort to cut down on traffic at the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also efforts to undermine it, including by President Donald Trump during the first presidential debate (there’s no evidence there’s ever been widespread fraud). In addition, court cases and legislative law changes have tweaked some of the rules to try to make the process go more smoothly during the pandemic.
Amid all this, we noticed you — our readers — still have a lot of questions about voting this year. Here are some answers.
How do I know if the ballot I mailed in was received and accepted?
You can track it here.
How do elections officials ensure the ballot that’s mailed to their office is mine?
Minnesota requires voters to submit the same personal identification number on both their absentee ballot application and on their returned ballot’s envelope.
Voters applying for an absentee ballot provide either a drivers license number, Minnesota ID number or the last four digits of their social security number on their application. When the voter fills out their ballot, it must arrive back at the elections center with those same digits on the envelope. In other words, the voter must use the correct identification number out of the ones allowed, as well as get the numbers right, for it to be accepted by the ballot board.
What happens if the numbers don’t match up?
If those numbers don’t match up — say the voter put a drivers license number on their application and the last four digits of their social security number on their ballot envelope — there’s a process for matching signatures or notifying the voter so they can correct the situation.
If the voter’s mail voting application was completed on paper, election officials try to match the signature on the application with the one on the ballot envelope, said Deborah Erickson, the administrative services director for Crow Wing County who chairs the elections committee of the Minnesota Association of County Officials.
If the application was online, or if they can’t agree that the signatures match AND it’s more than five days before the election, the elections office sends a replacement ballot. This also goes for when the ballot’s defective for another reason, like a missing number or signatures that don’t match. The new ballot has a sticker on the outside that tells the voter it’s a replacement ballot, Erickson said. The voter also receives a notice detailing why they’re receiving a replacement ballot.
If a rejection happens within five days of the election, though, officials are required to contact voters by more immediate means — phone or email — to notify them their ballot was rejected to give them a chance to cast a ballot, Erickson said.
“Part of the reason for that is because they may not have time to submit or receive a new absentee ballot (by mail). Part of what we do during that last five days is to give them options,” Erickson said. Like voting early in-person.
This year, due to COVID-19, mail ballots are allowed to arrive at the elections office seven days after the election, provided they were postmarked no later than Election Day. If ballots that arrive after Election Day are rejected due to the numbers not matching or a missing signature, voters are out of luck — there’s no way to re-cast that ballot.
What happens if I make a mistake on my mail-in ballot and I want a new one?
Not a huge deal. Contact the elections office that sent you the ballot, tell them you made a mistake and request a new one.
Like the old ballot, the new ballot you receive will have a unique ID number, Erickson said. One voter can’t have two ballots with unique and different ID numbers attached to them accepted, so the one you mail in will be accepted, while the one with the mistake will have its ID number cancelled. This also goes for if you make a mistake on the ballot that was mailed to you and decide to go vote in person: your original mail ballot’s ID number will be invalidated.
If I vote early in-person, when does my ballot go into the ballot machine?
It depends. If you make your way to your local elections center (where’s that?) today, your ballot would go into an envelope, much like if you had mailed it in, said Jeff Narabrook, the elections administrator for Minneapolis. Two weeks before the election, officials are allowed to start opening envelopes and processing ballots. That means they can start feeding them into ballot tabulating machines. They cannot, however, allow the machines to start tallying up votes for candidates until after the polls close on election night.
Starting seven days before the election — so, Oct. 27 — you can vote early in-person and put the ballot into the machine yourself (this option is widespread but not required, so small jurisdictions may not offer it).
“So if you want to go early, and see it go directly in the machine, come within the last seven days,” Narabrook said.
When do mail-in ballots get counted?
Depends on when they’re sent in. If your mail-in ballot was sent and received on or by Election Day, it should find its way into the machine in time to be reported with the rest of the results released after the polls close on election night.
In this year’s primary election, voters had until two days after the election to get ballots in if they were postmarked by Election Day (remember, it’s seven days for the general election). Vote tallies were updated on a rolling basis on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website as straggler ballots came in in the two days following the election.
During this week’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump told supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” which has raised concern about voter intimidation. Is this allowed in Minnesota?
Poll watchers are people who are affiliated with one party or another who camp out at polling places on Election Day to observe that the election is being conducted fairly. Both parties do it, but not in Minnesota per se.
Minnesota has tighter laws around who can be in polling places than some states.
“We have something called a polling place challenger,” Narabrook said. They must be appointed in advance by a major political party on letterhead, and they have to be a voter in Minnesota.
“And they only have one job, and that is if they have personal knowledge that a voter who is attempting to vote is not eligible, they will file a written challenge with the head judge. It can’t be based on suspicion, it has to be personal knowledge: that’s Jane, she moved, I know she doesn’t live in this precinct and yet here she is. That’s all they can do,” he said. They have to register their challenge with the head judge, who would then ask the voter to swear under oath they are eligible to vote where they’re voting. Polling place challengers can’t inspect records or question any procedures in Minnesota.
For more information:
You can find detailed information on voting by mail here.
You can find detailed information on voting early in person here.