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Minnesota Opinion: Prepping for Election Day well ahead of November

From the editorial: "'I’m not saying we don’t have challenges and glitches. Of course we do, but … we feel good about the core things, about health and safety. We feel good about security. We feel good about turnout. Overall, I’m optimistic.'"

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Late last week, exactly 75 days from Election Day, the man in charge of ensuring a fair and accurate vote in Minnesota this fall, Secretary of State Steve Simon, said he was filled with “cautious optimism.”

Minnesota Opinion editorial
Minnesota Opinion editorial
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“But you never know, right? Something could crash in two weeks,” he added, tongue in cheek, during an exclusive interview with the News Tribune Opinion page. “But we feel good. Knock on wood.”

While the spread of election misinformation and the possibility of a COVID-19 spike or a new variant remain concerns, Simon and the tens of thousands of other Minnesotans who work to pull off our elections every go-round have reason to feel good heading toward Election Day on Nov. 8 and the start of early voting on Sept. 23.

For one thing, it’s not 2020 anymore.

Two years ago at this time, Minnesota, like much of the rest of the world, was locked down against the pandemic. Anxiety and fears of the unknown and of getting sick were running rampant. The election, even with a presidential tilt on our ballots, was firmly back of mind.

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Rather than considering candidates, voters were deciding whether to risk their health by going to oft-cramped and oft-small polling places to cast ballots. Being able to vote absentee or by mail proved a popular alternative. Two years earlier, in 2018, 24% of Minnesota voters had cast their ballots absentee. In 2020 that jumped to 58%.

“That’s one of the things that saved the 2020 election,” Simon said. “When the dust settled, we were No. 1 in the country in turnout, which was great, during a pandemic. And for the third time in a row, which was also great.” Minnesota’s turnout in 2020 was an impressive sliver short of 80%.

Don’t expect a similar turnout for this year’s midterm, though it could be close with a gubernatorial race, a slew of hotly contested legislative races, and more to be decided by Minnesota voters.

Simon is back out this summer getting ready, traveling the state like he used to before 2020, meeting with county and election officials. Checking in. Making sure everything’s good to go.

“My message to them is, ‘Call on us if you need help’,” he said. “My message is also, ‘Look, you got through 2020, you can get through anything.’ … I’m not saying we don’t have challenges and glitches. Of course we do, but … we feel good about the core things, about health and safety. We feel good about security. We feel good about turnout, which is in the hands of the voters, but people seem engaged again. They seem interested. And so, overall, I’m optimistic.”

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Redistricting in Minnesota means some voters will cast ballots in races they didn’t used to and at different polling places. Go to mnvotes.gov to find your polling place, what’s on your ballot, and the locations of ballot drop boxes once that information is posted this fall.

Minnesota voters are also urged to go to mnvotes.gov/facts, a new Secretary of State Office-run site that aims to cut through and clear up election inaccuracies that get spread on social media and elsewhere.

“Disinformation in 2020 actually … opened a new window for us,” Cassondra Knudson, a communications director in the Secretary of State’s office, told the Duluth News Tribune Opinion page. “People didn’t understand voting, didn’t understand election processes, had no concept. And now all of that is the talk of the town. Everyone wants to know about it. That’s a challenge, but for us it’s really exciting because we have so many great systems in place and so much information available that we can tell people about.”

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For example, many Minnesotans are unaware that state law already requires the post-election audits and reviews that so many critics and others were screaming for following the 2020 vote while suggestions were being made, with scant evidence, that results may be off. Such auditing and reviewing has been a routine part of checks and balances here for years.

So have public accuracy tests of election equipment. State law requires “PATs” within two weeks of every election. “They try to trick (the voting machines),” Simon said. “They over-vote as part of the tests. Or, instead of filling in the bubble, they’ll circle it. Or they’ll put stray marks on the ballot. The idea is to try to trick it to see if it passes the test. (When the machines do pass), that gives people confidence in the accuracy of our election equipment. … They know things are on the up and up and that someone is watching this stuff.”

While the pandemic isn’t in the past, it is far different from two years ago. The coming election — fewer than 75 days away now — will be, too, Simon vowed. Expect fewer drop boxes for ballots, more Minnesotans returning to their polling places, fewer or no shortages of election judges, and more and more-accurate election information.

And expect voters to be able to spend more of their time once again scrutinizing and considering issues and candidates — instead of worrying about getting sick just by voting.

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