Can Minnesota’s small-town residents still vote in person? 

It is unfair for election policies to favor city residents over rural residents.

Kgroovy/Flickr

Can small-town residents still vote in person? The answer is yes but how you vote may have changed — especially if you are not pre-registered.

All non-metro cities with less than 400 registered voters, and townships of any size, can elect “mail-in” ballot voting. In a mail-in precinct, registered voters are automatically sent a ballot. Since 2018, over 400 precincts with about 74,000 registered voters, and an unknown number of unregistered voters, switched to mail-in balloting. This means there are a lot of first-time “mail-in” voters.

We received a distress signal from a couple in McLeod County; they got a letter saying they would be voting by mail. They did not like the idea of ballots arriving by mail and did not want to put their ballots in the mail, so we did some research:

To find out if you live in a “mail-in” precinct, visit the Secretary of State’s “Polling Place Finder” at https://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us

Mail-in precincts are assigned a central polling place where you can vote in person on Election Day, drop off your ballot instead of putting it in the mail, and register if needed. The polling place location may be distant so plan ahead especially if you are not registered to vote. If you mail your ballot, it should be postmarked by Nov. 3.

Your poll may be open prior to Election Day. Starting Tuesday, Oct. 27, polling places may offer “direct balloting” where you can feed the ballot into the tabulator yourself. Contact your city to verify the days and times your poll is open.

If you are not registered at your current address, or if you haven’t voted in two consecutive federal elections, your voter status may have been changed to “inactive.” The deadline for pre-registering has passed.

You can still register and vote on Election Day and perhaps earlier, but you need to go in person and bring proof of residence showing your current address.

It is important that rural voters are made aware of these changes well before Election Day— and based on all the phone calls and emails we are getting, the state is not doing a good job.

As a result of a steady campaign in favor of voting by mail amid Covid, the number of precincts designated as “mail-in” precincts skyrocketed under Secretary of State Steve Simon (DFL). Consider that in 2014, there were 588 mail-in precincts. Today there are 1,345 or about a third of Minnesota’s precincts, affecting about 150,000 voters.

This should concern rural voters who might find it harder to vote — especially if they’re not registered. Even registered voters, like our friends in McLeod, might find themselves scrambling on Election Day. We also worry about the ballots that never reach the intended voter.

There are many options for metro area residents to vote, especially in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is unfair for election policies to favor city residents over rural residents.

Whether you vote in person or vote by mail, just be sure to vote!

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Andy Cilek is the founder and executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA). Kim Crockett is the MVA’s legal policy advisor.