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Kandiyohi County prepares for the start of early voting in Minnesota on Friday, Sept. 23

Early, or absentee voting, in Minnesota begins on Friday, Sept. 23, allowing eligible voters in the state to make their choices in a host of state and local races. The team at the Kandiyohi County Auditor/Treasurer's Office is preparing for what is the busiest time of the year and wants to make sure voters understand the ins and outs of absentee voting.

Box of absentee ballot envelopes
Eligible voters in Minnesota can start voting by absentee ballot on Friday. Voters will need to request an absentee ballot either through the state Secretary of State website or at their county election office. Ballot envelopes are shown in August 2020 at the Kandiyohi County Auditor/Treasurer’s Office in Willmar.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — While Election Day is still seven weeks away, voters across the state will be able to fulfill their civic duty starting Friday. In Minnesota, absentee voting opens 46 days prior to Election Day and the team at the Kandiyohi County Auditor/Treasurer's Office is ready.

"Early voting is absentee voting," said County Auditor Mark Thompson.

The state has no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any eligible voter can request an absentee ballot for any or no reason. Voters wanting to cast their ballot early can request an absentee ballot through the Minnesota Secretary of State website .

Registered voters can fill out the application online , and the absentee ballot specific to the the voter's precinct will then be mailed to them. Ballots for the Nov. 8 general election will be sent starting Friday, according to the website. Once the absentee ballot has arrived, the voter can fill it out.

Voters also may download a paper application from the Secretary of State website to fill out and return to the voter's county elections office, which will provide the absentee ballot in-person starting Friday. The ballot may be completed and returned to the county office at that time, or the voter may take the ballot materials with them to return later.

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According to the Secretary of State, absentee ballots returned by mail must be received by Election Day or they may be dropped off no later than 3 p.m. Election Day.

There are four precincts in Kandiyohi County which are mail-in voting only, meaning there are no in-person polling places open on Election Day. All registered voters in Arctander, Roseland and Mamre townships, along with the city of Lake Lillian, will automatically receive an absentee ballot approximately 21 days before Election Day.

"They are mailed out to all registered voters," said Michelle Hanson, county elections coordinator.

Absentee voting process

Voters need to make sure to correctly fill out all the pieces of the ballot, including the signature envelope. A witness signature is required this year, a change from two years ago when that requirement was removed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If an absentee ballot is filled out incorrectly, it will be rejected by the county's absentee ballot board. The county will either send out a replacement ballot to those voters whose original ballot was rejected, or attempt to contact the voter in question, depending on how much time is left before the general election.

Once a voter has completed the ballot, it can be returned either by mail or in person at the county auditor's office by 3 p.m. Nov. 8. There is no seven-day grace period this year, so Thompson advises voters to mail their ballots several days before Election Day, to make sure there is enough time.

Absentee voters will not be able to drop their completed ballots in a drop box at the Kandiyohi County Office Building in downtown Willmar this year. County Auditor Mark Thompson recommended not allowing the use of a drop box for upcoming elections. The use of a box was allowed in 2020 because of the pandemic.

In Kandiyohi County, there will be no ballot drop-off boxes this year. The county decided earlier this year to not continue the drop-off box that was used two years ago due to the pandemic. An individual can drop off the ballots of up to three people at the auditor's office, but will need to show identification when making the delivery.

"There is a form we have them fill out when they drop off," Hanson said.

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Potential voters who are not registered to vote may still request an absentee ballot. They'll find a registration application inside the signature envelope of the absentee ballot. The registration form needs to be filled out and placed back in the signature envelope for the ballot to be counted.

If an individual is registered to vote when they apply for an absentee ballot, there are no extra steps. Voter registration can also be completed on the Minnesota Secretary of State website prior to voting or at polling places on Election Day.

Another option available to Minnesota voters is direct balloting at the county election office, starting seven days prior to the general election. There, a voter can fill out a ballot and run it through the tabulation machine, like they would at a polling place.

"That is as close to early voting as you can get," Thompson said. "They come in, they fill out an application, they vote in the back room just like at a polling place and they put their ballot in a machine."

System checks and balances

All absentee or mail-in ballots can be tracked. There are several levels of ballot security built into the process — including voter signatures and identification numbers that make sure only those who are eligible to vote do so and that they only vote once. The auditor staff can keep track of whether a voter has requested an absentee ballot and if they have returned one.

If a person returns a completed absentee ballot and it is accepted, but then goes to a polling place to vote on Election Day, the system won't allow them to vote a second time.

"There are checks and balances to stop people voting more than once," Thompson said.

Though significantly more people voted absentee or by mail in 2020 due to the pandemic, Thompson still expects quite a few voters to chose absentee voting this year as well.

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"Absentee voting has been increasing steadily, growing more popular," over the last few election cycles, Thompson said.

"Especially with the no-excuse, especially with the snowbirds because they are all getting ready to leave town, and college kids," Hanson added.

Thompson and his staff urge voters to check out the Secretary of State website for more information. On the website, voters can find their polling place, register to vote, request an absentee ballot and even see a sample of their specific precinct ballot prior to going to the polls.

"They can do homework prior," Thompson said. "This day and age, more and more people are using it and there is lots of information."

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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