Minnesota Debuts Online Absentee Ballot Request Tool

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[Image courtesy of mngopac]

Minnesota is jumping feet-first into its new no-excuse absentee ballots law, as the Secretary of State recently announced that voters will be able to request and track their absentee ballots online. Here’s the release from the Secretary’s office:

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — Minnesota voters can now request an absentee ballot online at mnvotes.org through a new tool launched by the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. The service allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot quickly and easily without the need to print, scan forms, and return by mail, fax or email. A similar tool for military and overseas voters was introduced in September 2013.

Voters may request an absentee ballot for both the August 12 Primary Election and November 4 General Election. Ballots for those elections will be mailed when they become available on June 27 and September 19, respectively.

“Providing online services that are efficient and convenient for voters leads to greater voter participation, helping to ensure every eligible voice can be heard in our elections,” says Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Ritchie adds the new tool saves election officials’ time and reduces errors by eliminating the tasks of manually entering voter data and interpreting handwriting.

Upon requesting an absentee ballot, voters may use the “Absentee Ballot Lookup” tool at mnvotes.org to find the status of their ballot, such as when it was mailed, and if their completed ballot was received and accepted by their local elections office.

Voters may continue to request absentee ballots by mail, and vote absentee in person at their county elections office, as well as a select number of cities.

‘No Excuse’ Needed to Vote Absentee
The Office of the Secretary of State expects an uptick in absentee balloting in 2014 as Minnesota voters no longer need an excuse to vote absentee, such as being ill or out of their precinct on Election Day. As a result, more voters can vote early by absentee to avoid long lines and waits at the polling place.

In Minnesota’s last non-presidential election in 2010, there were 127,248 absentee ballots cast, about 6 percent of the total 2,123,369 votes cast.

Eligible voters may learn more about the absentee ballot process at mnvotes.org.

How the “Request an Absentee Ballot” Tool Works
Voters requesting an absentee ballot online complete the online application at mnvotes.org. Their information is verified against data from the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services or Social Security Administration. Local election officials review the application, and if approved, send the voter their absentee ballot so they may vote early.

One item worth watching in the wake of this news is how local election offices handle the increase in absentee ballots. Minnesota uses absentee ballot boards that are responsible for verifying the eligibility of voters before the ballot is opened and tabulated; under Minnesota law, this process can begin “after the close of business on the seventh day before the election”. If there is (as many expect) a sharp increase in absentees, these ballot boards may struggle to keep pace – and some local officials privately worry about the effect it will have on timely reporting of results.

Another item to watch: Minnesota is NOT a postmark state. Under state law, any ballots

received on election day either (1) after 3:00 p.m., if delivered by an agent; or (2) after the last mail delivery, if delivered by another method, shall be marked as received late by the county auditor or municipal clerk, and must not be delivered to the ballot board. [emphasis added]

Consequently, I will be interested to see whether or not Minnesota sees a corresponding increase in uncounted late ballots like the ones currently at issue in California – and whether or not it makes a difference in one or more contests in this year’s election.

Minnesota has obviously doubled down on absentee ballots with the changes in law and this new online tool; what effect it has on vote-casting (and counting) remains to be seen.

Stay tuned …

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