The Hubbard County Auditor-Treasurer Office’s phone is ringing off the hook. Voters have questions about the upcoming general election.

County Auditor Kay Rave said they’ve received the most calls from voters who received an absentee ballot application from a third party, even though they live in a mail-in ballot precinct.

“Registered voters that live in mail ballot precincts will automatically get a ballot mailed to them,” she explained.

Rave said there are many third-party organizations mailing absentee ballot applications and “it is very confusing” to voters.

The only reason voters in a mail-in precinct would need an absentee ballot is “if they’re going to be away from home, for example, going to Florida or Phoenix. Otherwise, if they’re going to be home, we’re going to have the ballot mailed to them automatically at the end of September.”

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She emphasized that the county did not send out the mass mailings of applications.

There are approximately 13,300 registered voters in Hubbard County, she noted, and 17 precincts – Akeley, Arago, Badoura, Clay, Crow Wing Lake, Helga, Hendrickson, Lake Alice, Lake Emma, Mantrap, Nevis, Schoolcraft, Steamboat River, Thorpe and White Oak townships, along with the cities of Laporte and Nevis – are mail-in only ballots.

The difficulty in getting election judges during the pandemic is one of the reasons precincts have switched to mail ballots in 2020, Rave added. Four townships – Badoura, Helga, Nevis and Mantrap – and the City of Nevis have indicated they are doing mail balloting this year due to COVID-19.

A list of polling places and hours will be posted on the Park Rapids Enterprise website with this article.

According to Rave, in 2018, there were 1,600 mail ballot voters. In 2020, there are over 5,300.

Akeley Township, for example, is a mail-in ballot precinct, so any registered voters in that township will receive a ballot from the county auditor’s office. Registered voters are listed in the Minnesota Secretary of State’s statewide voter registration system.

“We know who we are sending the ballot to,” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand that’s how they are getting their ballot. It’s the same with absentee voters. They registered, and because of that, we’re going to send them the ballot. It’s not arbitrary – we aren’t sending it to anybody on the tax roll.”

Rave noted that in the 2020 presidential primary, in-person voter turnout was 17 percent. Voter turnout on mail ballots was 45 percent.

“I have found voters really like voting by mail, especially our elderly,” she said. “It gives them time to research and is accessible.”

If a voter is already registered, they do not need to send in another registration application, she added.

Absentee ballots

Hubbard County voters who want to vote absentee – either because they won’t be home on Election Day or because they want to cast their ballot early, for instance – and have requested an absentee ballot will receive one at the end of September.

Rave said her office has received a record-setting number of absentee ballot requests – almost 1,000 to date.

“We don’t know that it’s because of the pandemic. I think we’re seeing the numbers skyrocket because of those campaigns from those third parties that are sending out mailings to everybody by the dozens,” Rave said, “I’ve gotten two of them, and I’m already signed up for absentee voting. It’s completely wasteful and confusing.”

Statewide, in 2018, there were 36,217 absentee ballots cast. In the 2020 presidential primary, the number jumped to 462,832.

In Hubbard County, the percentage of absentee ballots cast was 20 percent in the 2018 and 33 percent in this year’s primary.

The best way to request an absentee ballot, Rave said, is online at mnvotes.org, in person at the county auditor’s office or by calling 732-3196.

Completed absentee ballot applications can be mailed or hand delivered to Hubbard County Auditor-Treasurer, Hubbard County Government Center, 301 Court Ave., Park Rapids, MN 56470 or faxed to 218-732-3645.

If returning one of the third-party applications, Rave advises voters to place them in an envelope in order to guard private data. “They’re mailing information that has their date of birth, driver’s license and last four digits of their Social Security number,” she warned. “However, once we receive it, it’s under lock and key. It’s safe.”

Common mistakes

Absentee voters must sign the envelope and either put their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

“It’s amazing how many people mess up something like that,” Rave said.

When an error is found, Rave said, “we communicate with our voters, whichever way we can, whether it’s an email or letter. If there’s not enough time, we call.”

Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day (Nov. 3) and received by Hubbard County within the next seven calendar days (Nov. 10). Ballots may be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service or a package delivery service, such as FedEx or UPS.

“If we receive it on Nov. 11, we cannot count it,” Rave said. “If we receive a ballot on Nov. 10 that was postmarked Nov. 4, we can’t count it.”

She encourages voters to mail their ballots as soon as possible. “Don’t wait,” she said.

Rave pointed out that voting twice in the same election is illegal; in fact, it’s a felony. Under Minnesota Statute 204C.14, an individual cannot both mail in a ballot and also vote in person, for example.

Election results will take longer

With a larger volume of absentee ballots expected for this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, total results in local and state elections may be delayed this year.

According to a press release from Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, unlike in normal election cycles, it may take days, or up to a week, before all of the ballots submitted are counted.

What will be known on election night, though, is the final number of absentee ballots requested by voters, how many citizens went to the polls and how many absentee ballots have been returned. Simon did add that there are variations in election results depending on local jurisdictions.

“Our philosophy, our goal, is to make voting as accessible as possible to our voters. And we want them to have a positive voting experience. Our department is committed to having a fair and impartial election,” Rave said. “We’re accurate – that’s what we care about.”

Every ballot has a unique barcode. Absentee ballot envelopes also have a code. “Every single piece is tracked,” she said. “You cannot put a ballot through the counter twice. That’s a security feature. We have checks and balances, and our internal controls work.”

Voters can track the status of their absentee or mail-in ballot at mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/AbsenteeBallotStatus.aspx.

Anyone with questions is invited to call 732-3196.