Absentee ballot board to begin the count this week but no tally until Election Day
WILLMAR -- For more than a month, stacks of absentee ballots have been arriving in the mail at the Kandiyohi County Auditor's Office and the county's absentee ballot board will begin counting the ballots this week.
WILLMAR –– For more than a month, stacks of absentee ballots have been arriving in the mail at the Kandiyohi County Auditor’s Office and the county’s absentee ballot board will begin counting the ballots this week.
With the state’s new “no excuses” absentee voting this year, the number of people who cast absentee ballots is expected to increase and the state has made changes to help counties handle the extra load.
Kandiyohi County has already sent out about 300 more absentee ballots this year than in 2010, which was also a non-presidential election year.
That’s less than it was two years ago during the presidential election, but in-person absentee voting that’s available at the Auditor’s Office is expected to get “really busy” during the final days before the Nov. 4 general election, said Sherry Bratsch, deputy county auditor.
To handle the volume, Bratsch said Kandiyohi County increased the size of its absentee ballot board this year to six members. When it was established by state law in 2010, it had four members.
Following the 2008 state election recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman in the U.S. Senate race, when absentee ballots presented statewide issues, the state required counties to establish trained absentee ballot boards to complete the multi-step processing of absentee ballots.
In the past, election judges in individual precincts handled them on election night, which resulted in some inconsistencies across the state.
Absentee ballot boards, which are paid an hourly stipend, spend many days on the job, Bratsch said.
When completed ballots started arriving in September, Kandiyohi County’s absentee ballot board came in at least every five days.
The members’ job was to determine if the voter properly jumped through all the hoops: having their certification signature or driver’s license number in the right place, for example, or the witness providing a legible and legitimate address on the outer envelope.
Acceptable ballots –– which remain in separate secrecy envelopes –– are locked away until they are counted.
Those that fail to meet the explicit rules are sent back in the mail to give the voter another chance to provide any missing certification information.
“We get a lot of them back where they didn’t have a witness,” Bratsch said.
In October the board members started coming in every three days to keep up with the ballots arriving in the mail.
The board works in teams of two with a member of the GOP and DFL on each team.
Because of the no-excuses provision, the state now for the first time allows absentee ballot boards to begin opening and counting the ballots earlier than previously allowed.
In the past, the process could begin four days before Election Day. Because that includes the weekend, it meant most boards did all the work on Monday and Tuesday.
Now counting can begin seven days before Election Day.
Bratsch said the board will likely start putting the ballots through the automatic counting machine on Thursday on a precinct-by-precinct basis.
The results, however, will not be known until after polls close on Election Day.
The information will be stored in the computer and the button that totals the results will not be pushed until Nov. 4.
The results will remain “confidential,” Bratsch said.
While the no-excuses absentee balloting makes it easier for voters, groups like the League of Women Voters and the League of Minnesota Cities had lobbied instead for an early voting option in Minnesota.
According to their published position papers on the topic, early voting would eliminate the time and expense of mailing and processing absentee ballots.
Vote absentee in person In-person absentee voting is available at the Kandiyohi County Auditor’s Office during regular business hours 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and until 5 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Absentee ballots that are mailed must arrive at the office no later than Nov. 4.