Absentee ballots for primary in Aug. can be cast today
WILLMAR -- Starting today, absentee ballots can be cast for candidates in the primary election.
This is much earlier than in the past and helps the state meet federal guidelines to ensure that overseas military personnel have adequate time to return their absentee ballots to be counted.
Minnesota has traditionally held its primary election in September after Labor Day. This year it will be on Aug. 10.
Turnout for primary elections is typically low in Minnesota, but because it's now being held when many people are on vacation -- or in the case of Kandiyohi County when the County Fair is getting under way -- the numbers could be even lower this year.
"I think there's a possibility the turnout in Kandiyohi County may be average for the primary," said Auditor/Treasurer Sam Modderman. "But average isn't very high."
Statewide, voters will narrow the field of candidates running for governor that will advance to the general election in November.
Locally, voters will reduce the number of candidates running for Kandiyohi County attorney and for the 5th District seat on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.
Casting an absentee ballot could be a more convenient way of voting in this year's primary. County auditors have the ballots ready to go in preparation for today's opening.
Registered voters can cast their ballots at the county auditor's office during business hours or ballots can be picked up and taken home and returned later. Ballots can also be requested by sending an application to the auditor's office and they will be mailed to the residence.
It's hard to forget the agonizing recount of absentee ballots cast in the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken.
Changes to how absentee ballots are accepted and rejected will be implemented for the first time in this primary election -- a change that should reduce the number of disputes on whether a ballot should be rejected or not.
In the past, election judges from each of the approximately 4,000 polling places would decide if an absentee ballot was legitimate or not.
The creation of county absentee ballot boards will mean a select group of individuals from each of the 87 counties in the state will now make those decisions for all absentee ballots cast in that county.
Kandiyohi County's four-member absentee election board is made up of two teams with two individuals on each team. Three have extensive experience as election judges, Modderman said. They were scheduled to undergo special training on Wednesday to learn the state's new guidelines.
According to Modderman, the names on the absentee ballots and the applications must match, but judges will no longer focus on comparing the penmanship of those signatures and apparently won't nit-pick if a middle initial is included on the application but is absent on the ballot..
Instead, judges will ensure that a set of numbers provided by the voter -- such as the last four digits of their social security number, driver's license number or Minnesota ID number -- match on the application and the ballot.
If those numbers don't match, then the signature will be examined more closely, Modderman said.
As ballots start coming back to the auditor's office, the board will be summoned to the auditor's office at least once a week and begin processing them, including rejecting and accepting ballots.
Ballots are typically rejected because of a missing signature or a missing number. Efforts will be made to contact the voter in those cases so that the error can be fixed and the ballot accepted.
Although ballots may be processed weeks before Aug. 10, they won't be tabulated until after 8 p.m. Election Day.
Modderman said it's a good thing the new routine is being implemented in the primary election. It will be good practice before the general election in November.
The work of the absentee ballot board will lessen the work of election judges at the polling places who were often scurrying to validate the absentee ballots at the end of a long and busy Election Day.
It will also take the pressure off of election judges who were scrutinized and sometimes criticized during the Senate recount.
Because the board will have special training and will be doing nothing but absentee ballots, they should be adept at handling the work. Also, since they will be processing the ballots at the auditor's office, the auditor will be close by to answer questions, Modderman said.
There is always a need for more election judges to work at polling places. Modderman said seven training sessions will be held between July 20 and Aug. 2 in Willmar to be certified as an election judge. That two-year certification is good statewide.
Another tip for a smooth election, Modderman said, is for voters to register before Election Day.