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Highlighting changes in voting and its impact

This is the first half of a commentary explaining voting in the upcoming primary and elections. The second half on absentee and mail-in voting will run in Wednesday’s Herald.

By Scott Felten

Mower County Auditor/Treasurer

Absentee voting for the Aug. 11 state primary election begins on Friday, June 26.  There are a number of changes that have occurred that will impact this election, as well as the November 3 general election.

The Mower County Auditor-Treasurer’s office is responsible for administrating elections across the entire county and our office is the location for people to absentee vote.  We are expecting many more people to do absentee voting because of COVID-19 concerns and we will need more space to maintain social distancing of people in line to absentee vote as well as for setting up ballot booths.  As a result, the county board approved our request to re-locate our elections operations to Austin City Hall for the August and November elections.  The Elections Office will be located in the former City Engineering Department area on the second floor.  We thank the City of Austin for providing this space.  We did not feel we could efficiently and safely conduct the elections activities in the space available in the Mower County Government Center this year.

The Elections Office address is 500 4th Ave. NE, Austin and our hours will be 8:00 am – 4:30 pm from Jun. 26 – Aug. 14.  Our phone number for elections business will still be 507-437-9535 and our email is elections@co.mower.mn.us.  People should enter the city hall building on the back side (south side), where Austin Utilities used to be located, as there is a small parking lot available there.  There is an elevator for easy access to our office.

If you have not already heard, the City of Austin will be using one combined polling location for the Aug. 11 and Nov. 3 elections – that one site will be at the Austin Holiday Inn Conference Center.  This is only for 2020 as school buildings cannot be used for polling places, per a law change by the MN legislature this spring due to COVID-19 concerns.   Another factor leading to the decision to have one polling location was there was a shortage of election judges available to work the normal six sites.  The same polling places must be used for both elections.

Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 11.  Voting is generally from 7 am – 8 pm at each precinct’s polling place (and at the Mower County Elections Office in City Hall only for voters who live in a mail ballot precinct).  Some township polling locations do not open until 10 am.

Voters can register to vote at their polling place on Election Day.  You must show proof of your current address, such as a Minnesota driver’s license or state ID.  Or you can show a photo ID that has your old address, along with a bill (such as utilities) that shows your current address.

If you are not already registered to vote, there are two ways you can register – at our Elections Office or online through the Minnesota Secretary of State website hwww.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/.  Once registered, you will receive a post card in the mail listing your polling place’s location and address. You may also visit the Poll Finder online to find your polling location http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/.

Primary Ballot

The August Primary is not to vote for President of the United States.  The Presidential Nomination Primary (PNP) was held in March 2020.  The final candidate for President from each party will be voted on in the Nov. 3 general election.

There will actually be very few offices to vote for on the August Primary ballot:

• City of Austin: Austin mayor and U.S. senator.

• Udolpho Twp.:  U.S. senator and MN State House of Representatives District 27A.

• All Other Cities and Townships in Mower County: U.S. senator.

Offices only appear on the primary ballot if there are more than 2 people running for a NON-partisan office (like mayor with NO political party affiliation) and the field must be narrowed down to 2 candidates to appear on the November ballot; or if there is more than one candidate from a political party running for a partisan office (like U.S. Senator) and the field must be reduced to only 1 candidate per political party to appear on the November ballot.

On the primary ballot, for partisan offices where candidates are affiliated with a political party, the voter may only vote for candidates of one party.  They cannot “cross party lines”.  However, you do not have to declare a political party to receive a ballot like was required in the March presidential primary.

All other federal, state, county, city, school district, and judicial offices will appear on the November general election ballot.  This includes Austin School Board and the Austin School District referendum question.  The filing period for all city council seats (except Austin) and for school board seats will be from Jul. 28 – Aug. 11.

If you have any elections related questions, please contact Mower County Elections at 507-437-9535 or elections@co.mower.mn.us.  Election information is also available from the Office of the MN Secretary of State at https://mnvotes.org or by calling 1-877-600-VOTE.