Despite changes in election law and procedures aimed at making voting easier in Minnesota in recent years, confusion and uncertainty have ruled the day among Meeker County voters the past couple of weeks.
“There is a tremendous amount of voter confusion,” County Auditor Barb Loch said. “I think some of it stems (from) everyone knowing the high stakes of this election, which is always the case in a presidential election.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional worries for voters, as well as the “information and misinformation” from news and social media sources.
“When we listen, we need to be educated in when it applies to Minnesota and when it doesn’t,” she said, adding that her office has fielded numerous inquiries from voters reacting to something they have seen on Facebook or national television news.
Loch pointed to one example of the confusion created by social media posts that have “informed” voters to be sure they put two stamps on their mail-in ballot to ensure that it reaches the auditor’s office and is counted correctly.
“The ballot has postage prepaid,” Loch said, meaning no stamp is needed to return it. “This is the type of misinformation that is rampant.”
She suggested using the Secretary of State’s election information website — MNVotes.org — as the go-to source for questions about everything from how to register to vote to whether a mail-in ballot has reached its destination in the county auditor’s office.
Much has been written and said about voting by mail this year, as some states encourage the practice as one answer to the potential risk of visiting the polls on Election Day, because of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, others question the validity of voting by mail.
Meeker County has had voting by mail for years, under two forms. The first is absentee ballots, for which any voter can request a ballot because they will be “absent from the poll location on Election Day.” Voters used to have provide a reason for their inability to vote on Election Day, but the state now allows no-excuse absentee ballots.
Meeker County also has 10 townships or municipalities that have vote by mail, for which every registered voter in the jurisdiction receives a ballot in the mail. Voters can return the ballot through the mail, or deliver it to a ballot box at the Meeker County Courthouse.
The 10 vote-by-mail townships and cities include the cities of Cedar Mills, Cosmos and Kingston, as well as the townships of Cedar Mills, Cosmos, Danielson, Darwin, Ellsworth, Forest City and Harvey.
Those 10 precincts account for more than 2,700 voters who will receive their ballots by mail. The auditor’s office planned to send all of those ballots to registered voters on Monday, according to Loch, so voters should already have begun to receive them. Any registered voter in one of the 10 cities or townships who has not received their ballot by next Monday should contact the auditor’s office.
It’s important to remember, Loch said, that the ballots are mailed only to registered voters in the 10 cities or townships. If someone is a new resident to one of the locations and have not registered at that new address, they will not receive a ballot there.
“We know there are missing people, and they will have to apply for a ballot,” Loch said.
Danielson and Harvey townships were the first in the county to transition to voting by mail, making the decision in 2016. Forest City and Darwin townships, meanwhile, just moved to vote by mail this year.
That transition often creates questions for residents, Loch said, as it did in Forest City and Darwin townships for the primary earlier this year.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had issues with mail-in,” Loch said. “But it’s an education piece with the voters, no doubt.”
While she understands the concern some voters have about fraud, Loch said she’s seen no evidence of it in Meeker County. The tracking provided through the Secretary of State’s office could help alleviate some of that worry, Loch said, as voters can see their own ballot advance through the process — or they can bring it in to the courthouse and see it put into the ballot box themselves.