Absentee voting provides ease, convenience this fall

Getting to the polls can be difficult for voters with disabilities. In some cases, polling places themselves can be difficult to get in and out of due to building design or lack of parking. Instead of voting in person, casting an absentee ballot provides convenience.

Minnesota offers all voters two ways to vote absentee: in person or by mail. To vote in person, a voter needs to visit his or her local election office. Absentee voting for the Nov. 2 election began Sept. 17 and ends at 5 p.m. Nov. 1. Many election offices do offer weekend and evening hours just prior to an election. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office can answer questions about absentee voting. In the Twin Cities area, call 651-215-1440. In Greater Minnesota call 1-877-600-VOTE.

Visit the office’s one-stop voter Web site at www.mn votes.org for more information about voting absentee, eligibility, and elections.

To vote by mail, download and mail in an application form from the Office of the Secretary of State’s website. You will receive a ballot in the mail and you must mail or drop it off at the local election office so it is received before 3 pm on Election Day, or call your election office and ask to have a ballot sent to you. Secretary of State has awarded more than $500,000 in grants to over 150 local governments to increase polling place accessibility. But some voters may still find their polling place difficult to use and absentee is the only way to participate in the voting process.

The following people are eligible for assistance in receiving and returning an absentee ballot: patients in hospitals, residential treatment centers, nursing homes, residents of group homes, residents of battered women’s shelters, residents of assisted living facilities, voters who are disabled, and voters who would have difficulty getting to the polls because of incapacitating health reasons. If you qualify you can designate a relation to be an agent to help you vote absentee within seven days of an election.

Minnesotans with disabilities who were physically unable to go to the polls were among the more than 31,000 to cast their vote by absentee ballot in the Aug. 10 primary. This number far exceeded the 19,000 absentee ballots cast in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. The only election in the last 20 years to come close in absentee turnout was a highly contested DFL primary in 1998, between Skip Humph-rey, Mark Dayton, Mark Freeman, and Ted Mondale where 25,000 absentee votes were counted.

The increase this year was not unexpected. A highly contested DFL gubernatorial race, the move of the primary date from September to August, vacations and other schedule conflicts led to more people choosing to vote absentee.

More than the date change may have impacted the increase in absentee ballots. Legislation passed following the Franken-Coleman Senate dispute has made absentee ballots more likely to be counted. In the past absentee ballots were counted at the polling place on Election day, at the discretion of precinct judges. If a ballot had an error there wasn’t time to correct it and have the ballot count.

Under new law, boards created at the county level now review voter information and contact the voter if any errors are found. That allows time to correct information and have a ballot properly cast. so they can be corrected and the vote cast. Previously, absentee votes with incomplete information were thrown out at the discretion of local precinct election judges, which lead to inconsistencies where a vote with the same error in different precincts may or may not be counted. In the new system, votes are counted by a uniform process so each ballot is treated equally.

Voters who want to track the status of their absentee ballots can do so now, through a new feature of the Secretary of State website. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie unveiled a new online feature that will help voters check the status of their absentee ballots. The launch of the Absentee Ballot Lookup service is part of the Office of the Secretary of State’s continuing commitment to use technology to provide added convenience to voters. This service will streamline election administration resulting in cost savings to local governments and ensuring Minnesota is in full compliance with the recent federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.

“We anticipate that more than 150,000 Minnesotans will vote by absentee ballot this election year,” Ritchie said. “This new service will give voters, especially our military personnel serving overseas an easy and convenient way to check the status of their absentee ballots.”

The online service informs absentee voters about the current status of their ballots with one of the following types of messages:

• “Your absentee ballot application has been received.

• “Your absentee ballot has been sent to you on (date).

• “Your absentee ballot has been received.

• “Your absentee ballot will be counted.

• “Your absentee ballot has been rejected for (reason).

• “Your replacement ballot has been sent on (date).

In addition, the service will provide helpful links to additional voter resources such as county auditor contacts and a listing of candidates appearing on voters’ ballots. In cases where a replacement ballot is not sent, voters will be presented with options to consider if they want to vote in the election.

To use the secure service, voters must provide the following information: First and last name (name must match voter’s name entered on the absentee ballot application or voter registration); The same identification number the voter used on the absentee ballot application; Complete date of birth of the applicant.

Those voting absentee are encouraged to visit www.mnvotes.org to use the Absentee Ballot Lookup periodically to stay up-to-date about the status of their ballots. For convenience, the office is also posting a link to the service on its Military and Overseas Voter web tool, which was designed by this office in partnership with the Overseas Vote Foundation to help military personnel and others serving overseas request their absentee ballots. Visit https://minnesota.overseasvotefoundation.org for more information.

Ritchie reminded absentee voters to pay special attention to the instructions in their absentee ballot materials and be sure to fill out the required forms completely. “The Absentee Ballot Lookup is a valuable resource that will keep voters informed and help alert voters to any problems that may occur while there is still time to correct them,” he said.

Patrick Timm is from Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Access Press staff added to this article.

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