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Ritchie informs townships about election changes, importance of census tally

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on Wednesday addresses officials from the Kandiyohi County Township Association during a meeting in Willmar. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- Saying Minnesota has a "very high stake" in the outcome of the 2010 Census, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie encouraged Kan-diyohi County township officials Wednesday to help make sure all residents are counted. Forms will arriving next week.

Not counting 15 people in each of the state's 87 counties could result in the loss of one of Minnesota's congressional seats, said Ritchie who was in Willmar addressing the Kandiyohi County Township Association.

An accurate census count can determine the amount of federal funding a state receives and affect businesses that use data to make decisions on where to locate their enterprise.

Besides the impact on businesses, political power and government funding, the census is also useful for people doing genealogy research. Filling out census forms today will provide historical information for the future, said Ritchie.

He also spoke about the earlier primary election date that was signed into law this month that will allow additional time for military members to get absentee ballots returned.

Another proposal that has been approved by the House and Senate will change how absentee ballots are processed and counted and how they will look.

Minnesota is the only state that processes absentee ballots at the same location where they are cast, said Ritchie. Under the proposed changes, a county-level absentee ballot board would process all the absentee ballots.

With more than 300,000 Minnesotans casting absentee ballots in 2008, Ritchie said having a separate board physically handing the absentee ballots is a "much better way to do that."

The envelopes of absentee ballots may also look different in the future. The current style is "extra bureaucratic and extra confusing," he said. The new design is "incredibly improved" and removed some aspects that can "trip somebody up" and make ballots void and go uncounted.

Ritchie predicts that within the next two to four years, the Legislature will start discussing whether to offer early voting. Nearly 40 other states currently have early voting options.

Ritchie said his office is in the process of developing changes that will allow greater Minnesota residents the same kind of access to his services as metro residents through expanded on-line capabilities.

Having services like uniform commercial codes, tax liens and establishing new businesses and limited liability corporations available online will make his office "more responsive" to the needs of the entire state.

Also at the meeting township officials were given an update on agricultural land prices in the county. Assessor Tim Falkum said market values of ag land have started to stabilize. The average sale price of land was $3,818 an acre last year.

Because the limited market value provision has been discontinued, however, Falkum said taxes on ag land are increasing this year.

Nancy Barsness, District 5 director from the Minnesota Association of Townships, also warned townships to be aware the state is reducing the market value credit to townships. That could affect township budgets as much as reductions in local government aid is affecting cities, she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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