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Kandiyohi County to purchase new election equipment with state grant

A state grant to purchase election equipment will put all of Kandiyohi County's precincts on the same ballot counter machine, which will help tabulate results on Election Day. The county is also purchasing its first electronic poll pads, which will replace the paper roster that voters sign when they come to vote.

052320.N.WCT.ElectionGrant
A state grant awarded to Kandiyohi County will allow the county auditor's office to purchase five new election machines, which will put all the precincts on the same machine. This should take care of issues that have delayed election results in the past few elections. Erica Dischino File photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR β€” The Minnesota Secretary of State has awarded Kandiyohi County more than $33,000 in grant money to purchase election equipment that will be used during the 2020 election.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioner last month approved accepting the $33,634 in matching grant funds.

The county is purchasing two different types of machines β€” ballot scanners and electronic rosters.

"The latest and greatest technology has to do with electronic rosters, e-poll pads they call them," said Mark Thompson, Kandiyohi County Auditor/Treasurer, during a discussion at the May 19 board meeting.

A third of the grant money, $12,715, will go toward the purchase of five DS200 precinct-based machines that scan ballots and tabulate votes. These are the machines where voters deposit their completed ballots at the polling place. This portion of the grant is a 50-50 match, with the county also putting in $12,715 toward the machines' purchase.

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The purchase of the new machines will bring all Kandiyohi County's precincts on to the same machine. This will solve the issue with the slow reporting of results the county had in the past, when it was using two different machines.

"Everything should work really nifty together," Thompson said.

The rest of the grant funds, $20,918, plus a 25 percent county match of $6,972, will fund the purchase of 16 e-poll pads. While not enough to outfit all the county's precincts, each of the 12 precincts in Willmar will get one e-poll pad. The remainder of the e-poll pads will go to Dovre, Green Lake and New London townships.

"They will be using a combination of paper roster and e-poll pads," Thompson said. "It is a good way for them to ease into it. Eventually all poll places will have the electronic rosters."

The County Board also approved a contract with Knowink, an electronic roster provider, for the purchase of the 16 pads. The company will also provide training to Auditor's Office staff, who will then train election judges on the pads' usage.

"They are the business to go to if you are going to purchase e-poll pads," Thompson said.

The Minnesota Secretary of State has begun pushing absentee voting this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota has no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any registered voter can vote absentee for any reason.

"If you vote absentee, we mail the information to you, you return it through the mail," Thompson said. Voters can request an absentee ballot online at mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us. .

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The state now allows county auditors to begin counting absentee ballots two weeks prior to Election Day, which should help if there is a significant increase in absentee voting.

In-person voting will still take place this year, despite the pandemic.

"We will still have the polling places open, for the primary and for the general," Thompson said.

The county will be working hard to make sure the polling places are as safe as possible.

"We will have to be working closely with the polling places, to make sure they enforce the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and maintain the 6-foot distance," Thompson said. "Set up the polling place to best work that out."

To man those polling places, as well as process absentee ballots, the county will still need election judges. Thompson believes some judges who are already signed up will decide not to serve, and asks anyone interested in being an election judge to contact their respective city or township clerks.

"They may have a spot for you," Thompson said.

Thompson feels the number of voters actually going to the polls could be lower this year because of the pandemic.

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"I think there is going to be less activity at the polling places. With the state promoting absentee balloting, I think most people will want to do that," Thompson said. "And I hope they do, for their safety."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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