Be vigilant and ready when voting absentee this fall

Be vigilant and ready when voting absentee this fall

While it’s fun to vote in person, see neighbors at the polls and watch a ballot swoosh into a machine, the COVID-19 pandemic means that voting in person can pose risks. Absentee ballots and the availability of early voting are helpful for many Minnesotans with disabilities. 

Not only is absentee voting important during the pandemic, it also is a needed service when many of the “rides to the polls” services no longer are in operation. 

Cuts to the United States Postal Service, and the removal of mailboxes and postal equipment, have raised red flags about absentee voting as most people mail their ballots in. 

Some cuts to mail service have been delayed until after November 3 Election Day. But voters should still be vigilant about making sure their absentee ballots get in on time and are counted. 

How do I get an absentee ballot? 

Apply for a ballot through the Minnesota Secretary of State Elections & Voting website or contact your local election officials.

The forms must then be returned to a county election office by mail, fax or email. 

Large-print absentee ballot applications are available. To request an application in an alternative format such as Braille, call 1-877-600-8683. 

As Access Press went to press, most communities were in the process of preparing absentee ballots for the general election. Absentee ballots will be mailed as soon as those are completed. 

Minnesota no longer requires voters to state a reason for requesting an absentee ballot. 

May I register by mail, too? 

Yes, but Minnesotans may also register online or in person. To register, use one of three identifiers: a Minnesota driver’s license, Minnesota identification card number, or the last four numbers of a Social Security number. 

Forms can be downloaded and printed out in English or other languages, and then mailed back to election officials. Read instructions carefully. 

To be eligible to vote Minnesotans must be at least 18 years old on Election Day, be U.S. citizens, and have resided in Minnesota for 20 days immediately preceding Election Day. Minnesotans must have any felony conviction record discharged, expired or completed. 

What’s important for some people with disabilities to know is voters must not be under court-ordered guardianship where a court has revoked voting rights or not have been ruled legally incompetent by a court of law. Voters can be otherwise under guardianship. 

Register or update voter information, such as a change of address, as soon as possible. It’s better to register and then apply for an absentee ballot. Check online at the Secretary of State website to see if your voter registration status is current. 

My ballot has arrived and I need to fill it out. What is next? 

Carefully read and follow the instructions that come with the ballot. The ballot signature envelope may have a box for a witness to complete and sign. One change to note is that due to the pandemic, there is no witness signature requirement if a voter is registered. 

Non-registered voters still need a witness signature, to indicate proof of residence. 

Fill out the ballot and mail it back right away. Ballots must be postmarked no later than November 2 for the November 3 election. The ballot must be received by your county within the following seven calendar days, or by November 10. 

I’m worried about my mailed ballot arriving at the election office in time. May I drop it off in person? 

Yes, ballots can be filled out at home and then dropped off in person. Returning a ballot in person means following specific rules. Ballots are to be returned to the local election office, not to the voter’s polling place. 

Ballots for an individual voter and up to three other voters can be dropped off in person no later than 3 p.m. on Election day. It’s best to drop off ballots as soon as possible, to help the election judges. 

Ballots may also be delivered by FedEx or UPS, although there are charges for that service. 

May I have someone else deliver my ballot? 

What is called “agent delivery” is only allowed under certain circumstances in Minnesota. A voter may designate an agent to deliver, in person, the sealed absentee ballot envelope to the elections office. The agent may also be designated to put the sealed absentee ballot envelope in the mail. 

To qualify for agent delivery, a voter must live in a: 

  • nursing home
  • assisted living facility
  • residential treatment center 
  • group home 
  • battered women’s shelter 
  • or, be hospitalized or unable to go to the polling place due to incapacitating health reasons or a disability. 

The agent must be at least 18 years old, have a pre-existing relationship with the voter and cannot be a candidate for office. An individual cannot be an agent of more than three voters in an election. 

Having an agent requires a request for agent delivery of absentee ballot form as well as the absentee ballot itself. The agent must take both forms to the local elections office before the ballot can be received. 

The agent can pick up a ballot and agent form starting seven days before the election, until 2 p.m. on election day. The agent or someone else designated must return the ballot by 3 p.m. on Election Day. 

May I follow my ballot after it goes to election officials? 

Ballots can be tracked though the Secretary of State Elections & Voting website, to make sure it has been received. Or call county election officials. 

The Secretary of State Elections & Voting website has a great deal of helpful information, including sample ballots.

(To clarify an article from the August issue, REV Up MN is a coalition of disability groups and not a state program. Learn more at Rev Up MN