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Minnesota Senate passes 2020 election bill: more money for no-excuse absentee balloting, but no all vote-by-mail

Minnesota Senate
Senate Media Services
The Senate vote ratified a deal that had been worked out among Secretary of State Steve Simon and DFL and GOP lawmakers on the House subcommittee on elections.

A compromise and temporary change to Minnesota state election law easily passed the Senate Thursday and is expected to be approved by the House soon. The purpose of the bill is to provide measures that will allow for elections to be safely held in August and November — even under the threat of continued or resurgent COVID-19 pandemic.

While both parties praised the deal, what was most striking about the bill wasn’t in it: The legislation doesn’t include provisions for holding the 2020 primary and general elections entirely by mail, which GOP lawmakers had opposed. 

The Senate vote ratified a deal that had been worked out among Secretary of State Steve Simon and DFL and GOP lawmakers on the House subcommittee on elections. DFLers gave up on all-vote-by-mail and Republicans backed off attempts to tie the appropriation of $17 million in federal funding — money allocated after the 2016 election and from the federal CARES Act passed in March — to two measures that DFLers adamantly oppose: requiring voters to show a photo ID to vote and the creation of a provisional balloting system for those whose voter registration is questioned.

What is left in the bill, House File 3429, is the money — and how to spend it. The main provision expands the voluntary use of no-excuse absentee voting. About a quarter of Minnesota voters take advantage of that voting method, which allows someone to receive mailed ballots each election after a one-time application. 

Secretary of State Steve Simon and county elections officials throughout Minnesota will be able to use some of the new money to promote Minnesota’s no-excuse absentee ballot system in the hope of boosting its use to 50 percent or even 60 percent of the total vote in the upcoming elections. That would reduce the use of in-person voting at polling places at a time when — because of fears over COVID-19 — staffing those sites with poll workers is expected to be difficult.

The money can also be used to sanitize polling places, install plexiglass protection for workers, put hand sanitizing stations in place and even offer single-use pens for voters. The bill also allows more time for counties to process mailed ballots and to close polling places close to vulnerable populations, such as in nursing homes. A Senate amendment to the bill also directs schools to be used for polling places only as a last resort.

State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer
State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer
For minor parties in Minnesota, the bill responds to concerns about gathering signatures for ballot placement amid COVID-19. Gathering signatures at street fairs, public beaches and festivals —  places the parties would normally visit to collect names — won’t be an option during the May and June signature gathering time period this year. Under the bill, therefore, minor parties will be able to use electronic signature gathering to collect the support they need to get on the ballot for the 2020 election. 

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, the Big Lake Republican who chairs the Senate state government committee, said the bill lets voters use either the mail or polling places as they have for several years. “For us and for all Minnesota voters, we look forward to a safe and secure election,” Kiffmeyer said.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, has been a major supporter of shifting to all-mail voting in light of the pandemic. He and others cited problems during Wisconsin’s April 7 presidential primary, which was held in person after the Supreme Court there blocked attempts to delay. Many of that state’s polling places were closed for lack of poll workers, which led to long lines and more crowding, and state health officials have said 67 people got COVID-19 after going to the polls during the election.

Thursday, however, Frentz acceded to political realities and endorsed the compromise bill. “We’re talking about unprecedented times,” Frentz said. “What we want to do for Minnesotans is simple, the easier we make it for them to vote the more will vote and the more Minnesotans who vote the more the result will reflect the will of the people. And this bill is a good start.”

Later Thursday, Kiffmeyer was asked about the concerns of county elections officials that they already have trouble staffing elections and expect that to worsen, since many poll workers are retirees. Older residents are more susceptible to suffering the worst effects of COVID-19.

“I’m putting out a call to all you young people,” she said. “We need you to step up to be election judges. Help out your grandma and your grandpa.”

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Laurie Hansen on 05/08/2020 - 12:02 pm.

    I find it hard to believe that the Republicans could not see fit to go with all mail voting during this pandemic national disaster in our country. Doen’t say much for their concern for the citizen’s health and well-being.

  2. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 05/08/2020 - 12:08 pm.

    I’ve never been a fan of republicanism, as they’ve always seemed selfish. However, today…they have become inhumane, selfish with little concern for the working population…and it’s only during a horrific crisis as we are in that they even do something for the people, instead of their emphasizing only the wealthier.
    I no longer believe repubs value a vibrant democracy.
    I have frequently asked repubs to list programs they support for the people who aren’t wealthier, but as yet…I haven’t seen ONE program.

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 05/08/2020 - 10:29 pm.

      It might help your cause were you to use the proper name of their political party and refer to them as Republicans. I have a similar distaste for people who refer to Democrats as Dems.

    • Submitted by B. Dahl on 05/10/2020 - 04:15 pm.

      I have a hard time trying to understand this post in that the author feels that almost 1/2 of the voting US population lies, cheats, steals causing death and destructions etc etc etc. I have been a conservative my whole adult life and find fellow republicans/conservatives are polar opposite of her view.

  3. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 05/08/2020 - 12:43 pm.

    It is unfortunate that Kiffmeyer is more interested in serving Trump and the corrupt RNC than she is in protecting and serving the people of Minnesota by resisting the passage of an all-mail all the time election law. The all mail process, by the way, is shown in some states to reduce the already low incidence of voter fraud.

  4. Submitted by Jerome Jensen on 05/08/2020 - 04:39 pm.

    After almost 10 years of serving as an election judge, I now have to question if I can continue. Most of our judges are retirees in my rural county. We will have to see how the pandemic progresses to decide my future role in elections.
    Kiffmeyer says for young people to step up. When I was young I would have loved to serve. But, as most young people, I was working and did not have the opportunity to serve. I hope these lawmakers support some type of support to promote making young person service possible. Putting out a “call” is just politics.

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 05/08/2020 - 10:33 pm.

      Americare is one organization with people of all ages serving. I’m not sure whether these folks are paid or volunteer employees. I believe they are the modern day version of a domestic Peace Corps. Perhaps Minnpost would interview and do a story on the state’s Americare (Americorps?) program.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/11/2020 - 04:52 pm.

      There is no reason young people cannot serve as election judges. State law mandates that your employer allow you the time, without loss of pay.

      There is no way I’d be doing it for $12/hour.

      • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 05/18/2020 - 05:30 pm.

        Being a judge also includes training. It’s not just showing up on the day.

        As a citizen, I have lobbied for election and redistricting reform. The Senate has been the barrier. I’ll just say that this is a decent compromise to the obstruction we have faced in previous sessions.

  5. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 05/08/2020 - 08:21 pm.

    The defeat of voting by mail legislation by Republicans doesn’t preclude any Minnesotan from voting by mail though, does it? I can order a mail-in ballot for the general election, receive one, and vote by mail if that’s my choice, correct?

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 05/08/2020 - 10:37 pm.

      I have voted absentee while both living in Europe for school, and during my time at my home in Minneapolis.

      If you are interested in receiving an absentee ballot, please call your county’s switchboard and ask them to connect you to the right office. They are great resource people, and will be valuable in assisting in your efforts to vote by mail through an absentee ballot.

      • Submitted by KATHLEEN YURCICH on 05/10/2020 - 07:45 am.

        There is no check and balance for verification for the identity of the person using absentee ballot in person. This is a huge problem. That process is FLAWED.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/11/2020 - 04:45 pm.

          Is that why the GOP dominates elections in Utah, where they’ve had all mail in elections for years?

          I guess in Utah the GOP is better at mail fraud than the Dems.

        • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 05/18/2020 - 05:35 pm.

          This is totally true for people who are politically engaged, have reliable access to the internet and anticipate what might be the situation on election day.

          Everyone else is obviously party to voter fraud.

  6. Submitted by Jeanne Larson on 05/09/2020 - 10:34 am.

    The only way Republicans can win and maintain power is by lying, cheating, stealing, causing death and destruction of our citizens, and now restricting our right to vote safely by this ridiculous vote. This is not the America I have learned to love and respect. We must stand up and fight for our Democracy to survive and thrive. We are all equal; we have more in common and remember ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!’

  7. Submitted by Jim Eisenreich on 05/10/2020 - 10:58 am.

    According to the article, both parties “praised the deal”. Now it goes to the house. If I recall, the democrats have the majority in the house. Will the house approve it?

  8. Submitted by Tom Crain on 05/10/2020 - 04:24 pm.

    All Vote-By-Mail voting would require sending ballots to all voters. No-Excuse Absentee voting requires voters to request a ballot be sent. That’s the only difference. Hopefully the MN SOS will advertise this heavily, but I’m sure all parties will be including this option in their GOTV efforts.

    The online absentee ballot application for the August primary and November general election will be available on May 13. Send the form in the link below to your county election office via mail, fax or scanned file attached to email in order to have an absentee ballot application automatically mailed to you before each election. Applications are mailed at least 60 days before an election.

    https://www.sos.state.mn.us/media/1914/application-to-automatically-receive-absentee-applications.pdf

  9. Submitted by Jim Tingsdale on 05/11/2020 - 08:35 am.

    “All Vote-By-Mail voting would require sending ballots to all voters.”

    Well, send ballots to every name on the rolls. But to ensure their integrity, a thorough review and clean-up of the rolls would be necessary…but the Democrats oppose that.

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