Hubbard County commissioners voiced their opposition to statewide mail-in voting, citing concerns about fraud.
During Tuesday’s work session, County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Rave reported that Mantrap Township Board voted Monday night to use the mail ballot system.
“That brings our current mail ballot registered voters up to 4,200 people,” she said, adding that a couple other townships are “very seriously considering” switching to mail ballots. “I expect our number to be over 6,000. This is regardless what the Legislature might do for the primary and general elections this year.”
The total number of voters in the county is 13,000.
“So we’re approaching 50 percent,” noted County Coordinator Eric Nerness.
County commissioner David De La Hunt said he listened to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon’s proposal for conducting elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. “One of the proposals is statewide mail-in ballots. I have no worries whatsoever with small townships and counties, but when you talk about doing this broadly throughout the whole state, it raises a lot of red flags for me, especially in Metro areas more than anything else,” De La Hunt said, adding the Democratic-led House appears to be in favor while the Republican-led Senate is opposed.
“If you look at where fraud does exist in our elections, it mostly centers around absentee ballots, which are a form of mail-in ballots.”
De La Hunt said he wasn’t so worried about the primary election, “but if you do mail-in ballots for the general election, I could see a lot of problems.”
He speculated that polling places will still be needed because some people will refuse to send in a ballot and want to do it in person to verify that their vote was received and counted.
Rave said it was her understanding that in a statewide mail-in system, each county would still run its own election “just like they always have, only it would be mail ballot.”
For all of Hubbard County’s mail-in ballot precincts, Rave said the courthouse is the polling place for in-person voting. “As you’d imagine, we are going to get increasingly busier and busier this year because we’ll have more people coming into the courthouse to bring in their ballots or vote in person. Yes, people still like to do that. I know there’s an awful lot of people that like mail-in ballots as well,” she said.
Undeliverable addresses are a problem, Rave said. “The primary is like a dry run for the general (election). We’re trying really hard to get all those addresses correct. Everything comes from the statewide voter registration system (SVRS). That information comes to us, then we send out those ballots.”
There are fewer undeliverables during the general election “because we’ve worked out those mailing issues,” she said.
“Everything is scannable. For those mail ballots, it’s all bar coded so when those ballots come back we process them by scanning in and all that voter history is uploaded back to the SVRS. We can find out whether David De La Hunt’s ballot was recorded or if it wasn’t,” Rave continued. “You are able to track.”
One issue is that the mail is slow. During the presidential primary election, “we were getting ballots in three, four days after the election was over,” Rave said.
She is discussing this and other concerns with a state work group.
The difficulty in getting election judges during the pandemic is one of the reasons to switch to mail ballots in 2020, Rave added. Three or four townships – Helga, Nevis, Mantrap and Straight River – have indicated they might do mail balloting this year only because of COVID-19.
Board chair Char Christenson agreed with De La Hunt that mail ballots are the easiest for fraud, as did county commissioners Dan Stacey and Tom Krueger.
Krueger said he was concerned there is an opportunity to intercept a mailed ballot and vote however they wanted.
“If we suspect the vote was tampered with, we’d contact the voter,” Rave said.
“How would you know?” Krueger said.
“In our county, we look at every single ballot because it has to be witnessed and you have to have either your driver’s license number on it or the last four digits of your Social Security number,” Rave said. “We do reject ballots often for the wrong data. We don’t suspect fraud, but it’s amazing that people have a difficult time with this. We end up sending ballots out and contacting the voter to get it right before we log their ballot in.”
De La Hunt asked what would stop someone from “helping” an elderly neighbor fill out the ballot. “That’s not legal in a polling place, and it can be monitored in a polling place,” he said.
Rave said election judges go to nursing homes in Park Rapids before each election to make voting possible. “They have special training in order to assist those voters,” she said.
County commissioner Ted Van Kempen said Minnesota has made it easy to vote, with same-day registration and absentee ballots. “I think it does open it up to fraud. Whether it’s widespread or not, I can’t say.”
Van Kempen’s township went to mail ballots. “They are good,” he said, noting that it gave him time to research candidates for judges “and make an informed decision.”
He agreed with the board that fraud would be minimal in a rural setting, but more likely in the metro areas.