Record number of mail-in ballots received by Minneapolis elections officials ahead of primary

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Voters will head to the polls in Minnesota in two weeks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Election and health officials have been urging voters to mail in ballots this year. Thousands have now gone out across Minnesota ahead of Primary Election Day on Aug.11.

Nearly half a million people have requested absentee ballots so far in Minnesota. According to the Secretary of State’s office, 167,823 of the 469,906 ballots requested this year have been returned.

During 2018, there were 38,621 ballots requested during the same timeframe.

“At the very least, I was going to do an absentee ballot,” said Mary Maddox, of Minneapolis. “It was just kind of the nervousness of seeing some of the primaries in other parts of the country, in Wisconsin and also in Georgia.”

She requested and received an absentee ballot.

“I knew it was important to have another plan in case things flared up or got worse here,” said Maddox.

KSTP spoke with Maddox as she joined her neighbors to cast a ballot at the Early Vote Center in Minneapolis. Maddox said she changed her plan after her neighbors suggested biking over there instead.

“I don’t have to be inconvenienced by extra-long lines and I felt almost an added layer of security knowing that I actually put a ballot into something that said ‘Ballot Box’ as opposed to [being] a little nervous about the absentee,” she said. “Just felt a greater sense of control, a greater sense of knowledge of knowing my vote would actually be counted.”

In Minneapolis alone, more than 20,000 voters have mailed in their ballots so far.

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“It can feel scary to send off something so important as your ballot and kiss it good-bye and hope it gets there,” said Minneapolis Elections Administrator Jeff Narabrook. “You can go online and track your ballot the whole way. In our statewide database of voters, it marks different points so you can see that we’ve sent you your ballot or once it comes back and we’ve accepted it.”

The 20,727 completed ballots received so far is a new city record. It far surpasses the previous record from 2018 when a total of 6,006 mail ballots were received during the state Primary.

“We are working really hard to process the huge number of mail ballots we’re getting in, which is exactly what we hoped for, we wanted," he said. "Anybody who can vote by mail, we want you to.”

Narabrook told us, for now, the ballots are still in their envelopes. On Tuesday, they can begin processing them.

He said they usually have to wait until a week before Election Day to start but they were given extra time this year. They will start opening them two weeks in advance.

“Which would be tomorrow,” he said. “That’s the last day you can claw back your ballot, meaning you’ve submitted your ballot, we’ve accepted it and you want to change your vote at that point. After tomorrow, that won’t be possible.”

He said they have brought in additional staff to help process the influx of ballots.

“As we’ve needed more staff, of course our site has shrunk in the sense that we have to socially distance, have the six foot, so it’s been a challenge,” he said. “We’re managing so far and we’ve got great people working for us.”

They are suggesting that voters request their ballot 10 days ahead of the August 11 date. This year, the ballot must be postmarked by Election Day and received within two days of the Primary in order for it to count.

For those planning to drop it off in-person at an election center, the ballot must be returned by 3 p.m. on Election Day.

They are also preparing for Aug. 11. The city is moving 50 of the 125 polling places to ensure social distancing and protect those living in residential facilities.

“If you come on Election Day, be sure to look up your polling place beforehand,” said Narabrook.

He told us that when voters head to the polls they should expect a mask requirement, hand sanitizer use, elections judges wearing gloves and social distancing.

At the Early Vote Center, there is Plexiglas separating the public from elections staff. There are also signs at each seat for voters to turn over as they leave to indicate the space needs to be sanitized.

“Everything was very clean and organized,” Maddox said.

Her neighbors, Patty West and Martha Grimes, agreed.

“They make it so easy, it’s like why not,” West said.

She told us she received an absentee ballot application in the mail on Monday.

“We were feeling like we’re getting down to the wire, I don’t want to wait until the day of,” West said.

For Grimes, who is a teacher, “I just didn’t want anything to be in my way, I wasn’t sure with the virus if I’d be able to vote later.”

She hopes she can be an example to her students.

“I just wanted to be able to make sure I got my vote in, actually put my ballot in the container and know that I got it done,” said Grimes. “You got to get it done. Just get in here and get it done.”