Plenty of Bloomington voters are expected to cast a ballot in November’s general election, and preparations have long been underway to afford them that opportunity, which starts Friday.
Early voting for the Nov. 3 election begins Sept. 18, and Bloomington voters are welcome to cast their ballot by mail or in person at Bloomington Civic Plaza prior to polls opening across the city’s 32 precincts on Election Day.
The usual protocols for early voting are in place for voters choosing to cast a ballot weekdays at Civic Plaza. New voters are welcome to join registered voters 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays throughout the next several weeks. Voting will be conducted at the city clerk’s office on Sept. 18, and moves to Civic Plaza’s rehearsal hall Sept. 21, according to City Clerk Janet Lewis.
If the primary election is any indication of the interest in the November ballot, there will be a high turnout in Bloomington. “Early voting was up significantly,” according to Lewis. She estimated that about 30 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for last month’s primary election.
Those ballots didn’t feature high-profile primary races, but voters turned out to narrow the field on the partisan ballots, with about half of the ballots being cast either in advance at Civic Plaza or by mail, she noted.
With the coronavirus pandemic affecting policies and procedures at the polls this year, voters are turning to mailing in their early ballots as a way to avoid interacting with election judges, or simply for the convenience of filling out a ballot at home.
Online applications through the Hennepin County and Minnesota Secretary of State websites will send a ballot to a voter’s home, as well as a postage-paid envelope to return the ballot. The mailed ballots include instructions for filling out and returning the ballots.
If the ballot is properly filled out and signed, it will be accepted and tabulated. If a ballot is deemed ineligible, it will be rejected, and a replacement ballot will be sent with an explanation of the error, according to Lewis. Few mailed ballots were rejected, she said.
Ballots requested by Nov. 2 will be mailed out, but Lewis recommends submitting a request at least a week before the election to ensure time for delivery in both directions. If a mailed ballot is postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10, according to Hennepin County’s election website, it will be added to the vote total tallied at the end of Election Day.
Ballot tracking, much like online tracking of packages, is available for election ballots, Lewis noted.
At the polls
Pandemic protocols will again be in place in November, meaning efforts to maintain social distancing, and sanitization of the equipment will take place throughout Election Day, according to Lewis.
Spacing voters apart from each other, both in the voting room and in the queue outside the room, will be part of the Election Day protocols. Depending upon the polling place, lines may not be entirely indoors, Lewis said.
Voters are expected to wear masks, and the polling places will provide masks to voters who do not have one. During the primary election, 17 voters refused to wear a mask and did not have a medical exemption. The mask requirement comes from the secretary of state’s office, and voters who do not comply with the requirement are noted. That list is forwarded to the county attorney’s office, Lewis noted.
Voters who will not comply with the mask requirement will have to wait until the room is cleared of voters, and will be the only voter allowed in the room, Lewis explained.
Voters who choose to vote at their precinct polling location on Nov. 3 will have the option of casting a ballot curbside. An election judge will administer the ballot while the voter remains in his or her vehicle, providing an alternative for voters who do not want to wear a mask at their polling place, she said.
Precincts are required to have judges who have identified themselves as supporters of any of Minnesota’s major parties. That has proved to be challenging, and has been compounded by the loss of prolific judges who are opting out of this year’s election due to health concerns during the pandemic, according to Lewis.
Staffing was at its minimum for the primary election, but higher levels of staffing are needed in November due to the high voter turnout expected, in part due to the presidential election, Lewis noted.
“I’d like our polling places on Election day to be slow, manageable,” she said.
Lewis encourages voters to take advantage of early voting options, if possible, and determine the method that makes the most sense for them. “Choose your voting plan now,” she said.
Election information is available online at tr.im/votinginfo.
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.