Minnesotans will be voting in primary elections Tuesday, Aug. 14. Primaries are elections in which voters narrow the field for the November election. Voter turnout in many areas may be light as there are few contested races. That means some services for voters with disabilities, such as rides to the polls, may not be available for the primary. But that shouldn’t discourage Minnesotans with disabilities from voting.
The primary election date was changed from September to August a few years ago to accommodate those who vote from abroad. The change to August primary elections does bring some additional considerations for voters with disabilities.
Voters should not only educate themselves about the candidates of their choice before the primary, they should also educate themselves about making voting a good experience. Voting places, especially those in older buildings, schools and churches may have limited if no air conditioning. Be sure to be prepared for heat and less-than-perfect air quality.
Consider going to vote early in the day. Bring an adequate supply of water and possibly a portable stool to sit on while waiting in line. Also, make sure that any medications or devices needed for assistance with breathing are on hand.
It’s always good to be prepared for a wait during voting. Even if there aren’t lines, machines can jam and other problems can arise. Be prepared for any type of medical issue.
Be careful of what is brought or worn to the polls. Don’t wear candidates, party or ballot question stickers, buttons or clothing. Those cannot be worn into the polling place.
A sample ballot can be brought into a polling place but don’t bring campaign literature, newspapers or magazines. Do not leave any items in the voting booth after voting.
It’s acceptable to carry a cell phone in case of emergency. But silence the ringer before entering a polling place. Do not accept or make calls while in the polling place as it is disruptive to other voters and officials. Voters are not supposed to talk or use their phones in a polling place. Be courteous to the election officials and ask the polling place’s head judge for assistance if needed.
Many good resources for voters are available on the Minnesota Secretary of State website. Find out where to vote, how to register to vote and other information at www.sos.state.mn.us/index.aspx?page=134. Minnesota does offer same-day registration at polling places. Either bring a voter from the same precinct to vouch for you, or provide appropriate pieces of information to provide residency and identity to the registration judge. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office website provides a detailed list of the types of information that needs to be used to register. Or use the website to check on current registration status.
Voters with disabilities can bring a helper to the polls to assist with voting. A second option is use of the Automark, a device that helps voters mark ballots. It is useful for voters with hearing or visual impairments. Otherwise, ask the head judge at a polling place for assistance. Two voters, each from different parties, can assist the voter in filling out a ballot.
Voters with disabilities are among those who can use the option of absentee voting for all elections. Voters can register one-time or register permanently to have absentee ballots sent on an ongoing basis. Election officials in Minnesota are predicting long lines even for in-person absentee voting in November so casting a vote by mail is a good, time-saving option.
In Minnesota, citizens are allowed to vote absentee if they are absent from their precinct, have an illness or disability, are serving as an election judge in another precinct or must adhere to a religious discipline or observance of religious holiday.
Vote absentee in person or by mail. In person, cast an absentee ballot in person, at the appropriate county auditor’s office and in some cases a city or township clerk’s office. Absentee voting starts 46 days prior to Election Day. This option is available on weekdays during business hours. In addition, the county auditor’s office must be open for absentee balloting from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Saturday before the election and until 5 p.m. on the day before the election.
City and county auditors’ offices will have more information on specific hours for absentee voting. In order to vote absentee by mail, the voter must complete an Absentee Ballot Application and submit it to local election officials by mail, fax, or email (print off the application, sign it, scan it, and attach to an email as a .pdf. Ballots will be sent to voters as soon as they are ready.
Once an absentee ballot arrives, the voter must follow the enclosed instructions carefully and return the ballot as soon as possible. It must be received by the local election official who sent it by Election Day, or it will not be counted.
The ways to cast an absentee ballot are:
• Mail back the completed ballot in the pre-paid envelope provided by local election officials.
• Up until 5 p.m. on the day before the election, deliver the completed ballot in person to local election officials, up until 5 p.m. on the day before the election.
• Have another person return the completed ballot, sealed in its envelope, to local election officials until 3 p.m. on Election Day. Persons delivering ballots may not do so for more than three voters.
• Worried about a ballot not arriving on time using First Class mail? Voters can choose to pay for package delivery service to return the ballot. Ballots must be received by local election officials on 3 p.m. on Election Day.
Minnesota does allow assistance in receiving and returning an absentee ballot. Some voters can authorize another person to be their agent to pick up and return an absentee ballot during the seven days before the election. These voters are person with disabilities; voters who would have difficulty getting to the polls because of incapacitating health reasons; patients in hospitals, residential treatment centers, and nursing homes; residents of group homes; residents of battered women’s shelters; residents of assisted living facilities Anyone living in a residential facility with questions about voting should ask the facility administrator.
In order to have an agent deliver a ballot, the voter must complete the Request for Agent Delivery of Absentee Ballot Form and the Absentee Ballot Application. The voter must have a preexisting relationship with the agent. The agent will use the completed forms to pick up a ballot, bring the ballot to the voter, and return the completed ballot to the county auditor or city clerk. Each agent is only allowed to deliver and return ballots for a maximum of three voters. This activity may only occur the seven days preceding an election. Ballots can be picked up until 2 p.m. on Election Day, and completed ballots must be returned by 3 p.m. on Election Day.