Voter mail bag: You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

People sit in pairs while wearing masks.
Pairs of election judges in Stearns County work together on Oct. 6 to verify ballots to be accepted which will then be counted on Nov. 3.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News file

More than 911,000 Minnesota voters already cast their ballots ahead of the November election, a substantial rise over recent elections with less than three weeks to go before it’s all over.

The surge in voting by mail or early in person is a product of voter intensity, concern over crowds in the pandemic and efforts by parties, candidates and government officials to promote the process. About half of the expected electorate has applied for an absentee ballot or live in a vote-by-mail precinct, according to statistics released Friday by the Secretary of State.

MPR News has received loads of questions about the mechanics of the upcoming election. Here’s a snapshot:

Marylin Dan of Mendota Heights asks: ‘If a voter’s ballot is rejected, are they notified and given the reason?’

The short answer is — yes. 

Voters are given a chance to cure their ballot — a do-over. Up until five days before the election, counties will automatically issue a replacement ballot and explain why the old one didn’t work. Maybe a signature was missing or a piece of information didn’t match up with records on file. 

Inside of that last-week window, officials will try to contact the voter to let them know something went wrong. But the tight turnaround makes it harder to turn a new mail ballot around. So it might be best just to head into a voting office or polling place then.

In 2016, there were more than 12,400 absentee ballots that were rejected -- out of about 689,000 ballots sent in to election offices. Two years ago, the rejection number was slightly higher than that. But according to the Secretary of State’s office, a majority of the voters with rejected ballots fix their flaws before the voting deadline. Most of the time, a correction results in a successful vote. 

Minneapolis voter Matt Carlquist requested an absentee ballot but is now considering voting in person: ‘Do I need to bring the absentee ballot to my polling place or how I would go about doing that since I have the ballot in hand?’

You don’t have to worry about that first ballot. Just head to your precinct polling location. They’ll know that they haven’t received a ballot back from you. Those records are kept up to date. 

Secretary of State Steve Simon adds this advice about the ballot received by mail: 

“They need not bring it to the place where they vote in person absentee,” he said. “And they should not bring it to a polling place on Election Day. Rather they should just explain to the elections administrator what has happened and that ballot at home on their coffee table will be invalidated and will not be counted.”

People standing at voter booths spaced apart from each other.
Voters wear masks and maintain social distance on Sept. 18 during early voting at the Ramsey County Elections Office in St. Paul.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Rachel from St. Paul asks: ‘When and how are mail-in ballots counted?’

Local election officials can start processing them 14 days before the election — separating them from their secrecy envelopes and feeding them into the tabulators. That means that come Oct. 20, your vote is locked in if you have already voted. There’s no way for officials to connect the ballot with the voter after that.

The vote tallies aren’t done or released until after polls close on election night. Counties are actually prohibited from running results reports until then.

Erik Warg in Savage asks: ‘What are poll watchers able to do in Minnesota and are they able to deter someone from voting?’

Each major political party can have one challenger per polling place. They’ve been designated in advance by their party so it can’t be a person who just shows up to take on the task on their own accord. 

“They can’t come within 6 feet of a voter or a piece of tabulating equipment. They can’t talk to a voter,” Simon said. “And any challenges to a voter’s eligibility must be made in writing and must be made with personal knowledge.”

It can’t be based on a whim or a hunch.

So for example, the challenger knows the voter is a high school sophomore and too young to vote, or they have knowledge that a voter lives beyond district borders or are a citizen of another country.

The challenge is lodged through an election judge, and the voter whose eligibility is questioned is then asked questions by the judge before they’re either turned away or presented with a ballot. 

There’s no limit on the number of voters each challenger can lodge a challenge against.

Unlike other states, there’s no such thing in Minnesota as a provisional ballot where there’s a separate pile to sort out after the fact.

If you have a question that we can answer about the mechanics of the upcoming election, throw it on tape and send us an email at ask@mpr.org. Or submit your question via this form:

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.