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Guest Commentary: Reminders for the upcoming election

By Scott Felten

Mower County Auditor/Treasruer

The Nov. 3 General Election is about one month away and our office continues to receive dozens of phone calls daily about the election.  I want to provide information about the election to help voters better understand the election process.  Please share the information in this article with your family, friends, and neighbors so everyone can be informed.  Also look for updates on the Mower County Auditor-Treasurer Facebook page.

Elections office moved

The Mower County Elections Office is located in Austin City Hall on the second floor, not at the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office in the Mower County Government Center.  The elections office has been in city hall since late June.  The move for this year was made as more space was needed to address COVID-19 and to better accommodate the large volume of absentee voting that is occurring.

The Elections Office is located at 500 Fourth Ave. NE, in Austin, across from the new Austin Rec Center, in the building where Austin Utilities used to have their offices.  Do not go to the Mower County Government Center for any elections questions or for absentee voting.

Current office hours at the Elections Office are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The Elections Office can also be reached by calling 507-437-9535 or 507-437-9456, or by emailing elections@co.mower.mn.us.

Absentee voting

Absentee voting (early voting) is currently taking place and runs through Monday, Nov. 2.  In-person absentee voting is only available at the Elections Office in Austin City Hall.

Absentee voting can also occur by requesting that a ballot be mailed to you.  First you need to complete a Minnesota Absentee Ballot Application.  This form is available by calling the Elections Office or completing the form online at mnvotes.org.

Dozens of absentee ballot requests continue to arrive daily.  We work to get the ballots sent out in a timely manner, but this takes a couple days and there is the mail delivery time to factor in too, so please be patient.  We have mailed out over 8,000 absentee and mail ballots already.  Once we are past Oct. 20, we recommend people come to the Elections Office to absentee vote, rather than request a ballot through the mail.

Third parties and political parties have been sending out absentee ballot applications to voters.  Although completed applications come to our Elections Office, we are not involved in any way with these mailings.  The only time our office sends out an absentee ballot application is when a voter requests it directly from us or submits an application online.  If you previously submitted an absentee ballot application, you do not need to request another one.

There are three ways to return your absentee ballot:

• By mail in the pre-addressed, postage paid envelope that is included with your ballot.

• Drop off your ballot in person at the Elections Office (no later than 3 pm on Nov. 2).

• Come to the Elections Office to complete an absentee ballot in person in a voting booth.

A ballot drop box is located inside city hall at the Elections Office and is available during the hours that the Elections Office is open.  There is an election judge or elections official present at all times.  There are no plans at this time to have an outside drop box.  This decision was made to ensure the security of the ballots.

A voter can have someone else drop off their ballot at the Elections Office; this person is called an agent.  However, a person (the agent) is limited to dropping off the ballot of up to three other voters.  Anyone who drops off the ballot of someone else must complete a form so that we can document the limit per agent.

Extended Hours for Absentee Voting

The Elections Office will be open additional hours to provide more opportunity for people who prefer to absentee vote in-person or who want to drop off their completed absentee or mail ballot.  These extended days and times are:  10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24, until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27 and Thursday, Oct. 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 31 and until 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2.

Please note that absentee voting is not allowed on Election Day, Nov. 3; voters must vote at their designated polling location that day.  The location of polling places is available on our website.

City of Austin

polling place

Due to COVID-19, school buildings are not allowed to be used for polling places and many election judges have chosen not to work this year because of health concerns.  As a result, the City of Austin has consolidated its normal polling places into one in-person voting location on Election Day – the Austin Holiday Inn Conference Center located at 1701 Fourth Street NW in Austin.  This location and the layout of the voting area worked well during the primary election.

Please note, the only day to vote at the Holiday Inn Conference Center is on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Mail balloting

precincts

Registered voters who live in mail balloting precincts (townships/cities) have been mailed their ballot.  These voters can complete their ballot and mail it back to the Elections Office or drop it off at the Elections Office.

Voters who live in mail balloting precincts are allowed to vote in-person at the Mower County Elections Office during the hours referenced above, plus on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3 from 7 a.m. to  8 p.m., if they prefer.  Completed mail ballots must be dropped off by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3 at the Elections Office, located at 500 Fourth Ave. NE in Austin City Hall.

If mail ballot voters prefer to vote in-person, please bring the ballot and the envelopes you received in the mail with you to the Elections Office as this will shorten the time it takes you to complete the voting process.

Non-registered voters living in mail balloting precincts can vote by completing a voter registration application by Oct. 13 and then they will receive a mail ballot.  After Oct. 13, a non-registered voter would complete an absentee ballot application.

Ballot Status

Voters can check on the status of their absentee or mail ballot to make sure it was received by going to mnvotes.org.  There you can find a “track my ballot” link; just enter your name, date of birth, and ID number (either MN driver’s license number/State ID number, or last 4 digits of social security number). 

Other Election Items

Due to the COVID-19 situation, for 2020 only, state law allows absentee and mail ballots that are postmarked on or before Tuesday, Nov. 3 (Election Day) to be accepted and counted as long as the ballots are received in the Mower County Elections Office by Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Our conscientious elections team works hard to make sure the election flows as smoothly as possible. On very rare occasions, a simple mistake or clerical error can occur.  We recently discovered that 24 voters in the Blooming Prairie School District in Udolpho Township received by mistake a ballot for a different school district with different school board candidates.  As soon as we became aware of this, the county proactively contacted the court so we could remedy the situation in a timely manner.  In order to be transparent, we are notifying the voters in that precinct so that the correct ballot with their school board candidates listed can be issued to the 24 affected voters and the original ballots can be voided.

Voters can look at a sample ballot and find out where they vote on Election Day by going to mnvotes.org.  A sample ballot will be published in the newspaper later in October.  For mail ballot precincts only, the Elections Office in Austin City Hall would be considered their polling place.