Morrison County has 48 voting precincts, including cities and townships. As of Sept. 1, those precincts had a total of 20,351 registered voters, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Each of those voters have a variety of options for casting their ballot in the upcoming presidential election, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Some voters reside in mail ballot precincts and some in open-polling precincts, both can vote in person or through the mail. Voting and the terminology that goes with it can be confusing for some, said Morrison County Auditor Treasurer Chelsey Robinson, specifically the difference between mail in ballots and absentee ballots (also known as early voting).
Traditional in-person election day voters can go to their polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. the day of the election and cast their ballot, if they’re registered.
If someone isn’t registered to vote, they can apply at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office website online or by printing a paper version and turning in the application to the County Auditor Treasurer’s Office. Residents can contact Morrison County elections staff for assistance.
To qualify, applicants must be a U.S. citizen, at least the age of 18 by election day and a Minnesota resident for 20 days. A resident may be prohibited from voting if they have a felony conviction or if the court has ruled them legally incompetent.
The deadline to pre-register is Oct. 13. If a resident wishes to vote after that, they can go to their polling place and register on the day of the election with proof of residency.
Residents can also register to vote after the deadline, but will receive a late-registration document which they must bring with them to vote.
Morrison County has processed mail-in ballots since 1996. By the 2016 election, there were about 3,000 voters across 20 precincts that were mail-in ballot only, said Joyce Kahl, county account specialist for elections. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional eight precincts have opted to become mail-in ballot precincts, bringing the total to 28 mail-in precincts with about 6,000 registered voters.
“Everybody that’s registered as of Oct. 13 will get a mail ballot mailed directly to them without an application, if they are a registered voter in a mail-in precinct,” Kahl said.
The County Auditor Treasurer’s Office compiles, sends and processes ballots in house. The office will be mailing out general election ballots between Sept. 25 and Oct. 16.
“If anyone would like, if they are concerned about mailing or didn’t fill it out in time to be mailed back, then they can hand deliver it to the Auditor Treasurer’s Office,” Robinson said.
Mail-in ballots are due in person, Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m.
Residents in mail-in precincts who are not registered to vote by Oct. 13 are considered an absentee voter and can vote with the completion of an absentee ballot application either in person or by mail.
Absentee or early voting
If a registered voter in an open polling location prefers to mail a ballot, vote early, or those who will be out of town, regardless of their precinct, can apply for an absentee or early voting ballot, and even have it mailed to a different address.
“We received communication from the Secretary of State’s Office that in July this year, our numbers for the 2020 absentee requests are off the chart,” Robinson said.
As of July, the state reported 350,516 absentee requests statewide, compared to 21,043 in 2018 and 12,936 in the July before the 2016 presidential election.
An absentee ballot allows a resident to vote up to 45 days before the election either from their home, in person at the county Auditor Treasurer’s office or from another location such as a vacation home.
Absentee or early voting, starts Sept. 18.
“If you’re not registered in our system when you come and vote absentee, then we register you but you gotta show proof of residency. Then you can register and vote at the same time, kind of like registering and voting on election day,” Kahl said.
Absentee ballots can also be delivered in person by 3 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Benefits and Security
Voting by mail has benefits for all, increasing access for those without transportation or those with compromised immune systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With voting by mail, they can take time to look at their ballot and sit down at their kitchen table. If they want they can research the candidate and fill out their ballot and then mail it. Where if you’re in the polls, you only have your time within the voting booth,” Robinson said.
All mail-in and absentee ballots are unique to a registered voter, Robinson said. Voter registration is verified and records are updated daily, so ballots are as up to date as possible before being mailed to a voter. Robinson said the county has not had issues with residents falsely submitting ballots for others. But, if a voter suspects their ballot was cast by someone else, or if the ballot was lost or stolen, they can call the county Auditor Treasurer’s Office to verify the ballot and even cancel it if necessary.
Robinson mentioned that many residents have called about mailings, usually affiliated with a political party, informing people who to vote by absentee ballot. Those mailings are not sent by the county, which is a non-partisan entity, she said.
However, the Secretary of State’s Office will be mailing an absentee ballot application to all registered voters across the state by Sept. 11.
Ensuring the ballot is counted
When mailing a ballot, Robinson said to make sure to allow six days for mail processing, but both absentee and mail-in ballots can be accepted up to seven days after the election if they are mailed and postmarked on or before election day.
“Our local postal service I think does quite well. We noticed here that they make an extra trip on election day to bring us ballots,” Robinson said.
Before submitting a ballot, a resident should double check the ballot instructions, required signatures, and make sure it meets voting deadlines.
To register to vote, track a mail-in or absentee ballot, find a precinct or learn about local elected officials, go to the Morrison County website, co.morrison.mn.us, and click on elections and voting on the main page.
The County Auditor Treasurer’s Office is located on the second floor of the government center at 213 First Ave. SE, Little Falls and can be reached at: (320) 632-0137 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Residents can also visit www.mnvotes.org or call 1 (877) 600-8683.