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New absentee vote system could affect how quickly vote outcome is known

The number of absentee ballots cast by Minnesotans has risen to what likely is a record that could top 29,000, which may have an impact on just how quickly we’ll know the outcome of today’s election. (Update: As of 10:45 a.m., the absentee ballot total stands at 30,032.)

How those ballots are counted is all new because of changes in election laws enacted following the confusion over counting methods in the 2008 U.S. Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.

In the past, absentee ballots ended up in the precincts where voters lived and were counted by tired, and sometimes inexperienced, election judges. Now, the ballots are evaluated and counted in centralized county or municipal locations. The idea is that there will be a more uniform way of judging the validity of each of the ballots.

But the new method also may — or may not — lead to counting delays.

Those absentee ballots, judged to be outwardly correct, have been entered into voting machines and will be tabulated after the polls close at 8 p.m. Results will then be sent to the precincts where they’ll be added to the totals of those voting at the polls.

Hennepin County is the big player in this.

As of Monday morning, 7,000 absentee ballots had been cast by Hennepin County voters.

That figures represents about 27 percent of the 26,200 absentee ballots reported Monday morning by the Secretary of State’s Office. The county’s population is about 22 percent of the state’s total population, so there’s a slight skew toward absentee ballots in the state’s most populous county. Exactly which candidate that will favor remains to be seen.

Initially, 450 of the Hennepin absentee ballots were rejected, but, under the new law, elections officials were required to contact those who had cast rejected ballots to give them a second chance at voting. Many of those voters did submit a second ballot that was approved.

Under any circumstance, the record number of absentee ballots likely means they could play a pivotal role in the DFL primary contest between Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza and Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

Given expectations by the secretary of state’s office for a low turnout for today’s primary, the absentee ballots could amount to about 10 percent of the vote.

Jay Weiner contributed to this report.

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