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Auditor-treasurer outlines voting procedures for election

With the general election a little over a month away and absentee voting already underway in Minnesota, Freeborn County’s auditor-treasurer is reassuring voters of the election processes in place in the county and state.

“We take it very seriously,” Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson said. “We know how important it is and want to make sure everyone’s vote is secure and safe.”

Her office has already received requests for 2,800 absentee ballots, mainly to residents in the city of Albert Lea and the four other in-person precincts. In the last presidential election, the county received 2,300 absentee ballots through the end of the election.

Pat Martinson

While nine of Freeborn County’s townships and cities had mail ballots before this election, several more have opted to go with mail ballots for the upcoming presidential election because of concerns about the availability of election judges and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinson said. The only cities and townships that will have in-person voting in their precincts the day of the election are the city of Albert Lea and Freeman, Hayward, Newry and Riceland townships.

Each individual township board or city council made the decision for their own jurisdictions, she said, and a letter went out to registered voters about the decision, outlining dates the ballots will be mailed out and options for returning them.

“Minnesota has had mail balloting since 1988,” she said. “It’s a pretty tried and true process. It’s only certain size precincts that are allowed to have it.”

Mail ballots will be sent out Oct. 5 to registered voters in the cities and townships that opted for this process. For people who are not registered voters in these jurisdictions, they can go to the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office and vote through an absentee ballot.

Martinson said people who have not received their ballot within seven days of the mailing can contact her office if they do not receive it. Because the county cannot issue two ballots to the same person, the first ballot would be considered spoiled. Each mail ballot has a number on the envelope — not on the ballot — and the county would label that initial number as a spoiled ballot in its system and would not accept it if it were to ever be returned.

Mail ballots can be returned through the U.S. Postal Service or taken to the courthouse. Mail ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service must be postmarked by Election Day, and the county will accept ballots for seven days after that date with the necessary postmark.

Mail ballots can be returned through a locked drop box inside the Law Enforcement Center entrance of the Freeborn County courthouse. The box is fixed to the wall and has cameras pointed on it, as well as security nearby at the door. If someone wants to drop off a ballot for another person, they must go to the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office, sign a log and show their ID.

Mail ballots will be accepted through 8 p.m. Election Day.

Martinson said many people are getting confused because they have received applications for absentee ballots in the mail. She said those are just that — applications — that have been sent out by voter outreach groups, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office and various political groups. None have been sent out by the Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office, and she advised people that if they have already filled one application out, they do not need to fill out duplicates.

Minnesota has no-excuse absentee voting.

Absentee ballots must be turned in by 3 p.m. on Election Day. People who vote in-person at the courthouse are encouraged to make an appointment to do so on the county’s website. They should check in with security at the law enforcement entrance when they arrive, where their temperature will be taken, and they should wear a face mask.

She encouraged people to call her office with any questions at 377-5121 or 377-5117.

 

Mail balloting Q&A

How did my precinct become a mail ballot precinct?

Your local board or council voted to establish your polling location as a mail ballot precinct by May of this year for the 2020 election cycle. Every registered voter in the precinct received a letter. The decision was made with consideration of the pandemic, holding a safe election for all and concerns over the availability of election judges required. In 1988, Minnesota statutes first recognized mail balloting as a form of voting in certain precincts. Freeborn County had nine precincts using mail balloting before the 2020 August primary. The following precincts are mail ballot for the upcoming general election:

Albert Lea Township, P1

Albert Lea Township, P2

Alden Township

Bancroft Township

Bath Township

Carlston Township

Freeborn Township

Geneva Township

Hartland Township

London Township

Manchester Township

Mansfield Township

Moscow Township

Nunda Township

Oakland Township

Pickerel Lake Township

Shell Rock Township

City of Alden

City of Clarks Grove

City of Conger

City of Emmons

City of Freeborn

City of Geneva

City of Glenville

City of Hartland

City of Hayward

City of Hollandale

City of Manchester

City of Myrtle

City of Twin Lakes

 

How do I receive a mail ballot?

Only registered voters who have already had their registration status verified and confirmed are sent a ballot. For the 2020 general election, the ballots for mail ballot precincts will be sent Oct. 5 and should arrive at the voter’s household within a seven-day period. The ballots are noted as official election mailings that are non-forwardable from the USPS.

 

What if I don’t receive my ballot?

Call the Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office and request a new one. The original ballot is marked as spoiled in the system, and a replacement ballot is issued.

 

How do I know that the original isn’t counted?

Once a ballot is issued, it is assigned a unique ballot ID# in the system that appears on the label attached to your signature envelope only. The ballot ID# is not on your ballot. If a ballot is spoiled, the system will not accept the ballot ID# on the signature envelope of the spoiled ballot so that ballot will not be counted.

 

May I drop my voted mail ballot off at the government center instead of mailing it back?

All ballots are sent with pre-paid returned postage, but you may choose to drop your ballot off at the elections office during normal business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Saturday before the election, Oct. 31. There is a secure drop box at the entrance of the Freeborn County Law Enforcement Center at 411 S. Broadway Ave., Albert Lea. However, you may only deliver your ballot and up to three others according to Minnesota law. If you deliver a sealed voted ballot for someone other than yourself, Minnesota statutes require that you show ID and sign a log in the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office. Security at the door will direct you to the office. Ballots returned in person must be delivered by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked on or before Election Day (Nov. 3) and received by Freeborn County within the next seven calendar days (Nov. 10). You can track the status of your ballot and confirm that it was received and counted.

 

Can I see the status of my ballot?

You can go online to www.mnvotes.org under “Other ways to vote” and click track your absentee or mail ballot. If you have any concerns regarding the status, call the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office.

 

What happens to my ballot after I return it?

Your ballot ID is scanned into the State Voter Registration System as a received ballot the day the elections office receives it. A report is generated from the SVRS system showing how many ballots we have in received status by precinct. Elections staff verify the counts and the ballots are stored in a locked vault. The mail Ballot Board meets to accept or reject returned ballots. A mail ballot board is a team of two election judges who verify the voter information. If any of the information is not correct or missing, the ballot is rejected. All other ballots are then moved to accepted status. Again, a report is generated showing the number of ballots in accepted status. Election staff verify the counts and the ballots are stored in a locked vault. Rejected ballots are moved back to election staff so they can send the voter a letter indicating why the ballot was rejected and a replacement ballot is issued.

Reports are run daily and all accepted ballots are re-counted by precinct to ensure accuracy.

During the mail ballot processing period allowed by law, which is 14 days before the election for the 2020 general election, election judges and election staff start the scanning process.

• Taking one precinct at a time, the accepted ballot counts are verified again by election staff.

• Return envelopes are opened and the secrecy envelope is removed. The returned envelopes and secrecy envelopes are kept in separate piles to ensure voter privacy.

• Once the identifying information has been separated, the secrecy envelopes are opened and the ballot is removed.

• After all ballots are opened they are scanned through a central count machine, similar to the tabulator at the polling locations only much faster.

• No results are tabulated or recorded until after the polls close on Election Day.

 

Can a ballot be issued to a deceased person?

The State Voter Registration System is updated by reports from the Minnesota Department of Health on a regular basis. Anyone having a death record is marked as deceased in the system and inactivated as a registered voter. Only active registered voters are mailed a mail ballot. If a voter’s status is marked as deceased after a mail ballot has been received for them, the ballot is not counted.

 

Will any polling places be open on Election Day?

The Auditor-Treasurer’s Office will be open as a polling place on Election Day. You can drop off your ballot there, or register and vote in person.

 

What if I move to a mail ballot precinct close to the election date?

If you update your voter registration to your new address at least 21 days before the election, election officials will automatically send you a ballot by mail. Otherwise, you will need to apply to have a ballot mailed to your new address. Election officials will send you a registration application with your ballot materials.

 

What if I’m not currently registered to vote?

Eligible voters who do not receive a ballot mailed to them due to not being registered in the precinct may apply for an absentee ballot, but will need to provide proof of residence and complete an election day voter registration application as required by law before their ballot will be accepted.

 

— Information from the Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office