Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie recently sat down with The Daily Circuit to answer your questions about the voting process.
The questions included how the absentee ballot process works, how the state ensures voting for people who are homeless and how to vote if you're in the hospital on Election Day (it's doable, but you have to do it by 3 p.m.)
Ritchie also noted several new online tools his office posted this year to help answer other questions. People can now use the website www.mnvotes.org to find out, for example, if county officials have received their absentee ballot, what they must do to register to vote on Election Day and - new this year - see exactly which races will be on their ballot when they arrive at their polling place.
Ritchie first explained how absentee ballots are counted in the state.
Absentee ballots that are received by 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election, will be certified at the county level and recorded in the voter registration books that will be at each polling place on Election Day, he said. The effect of that, Ritchie added, is that people who vote absentee won't be able to show up on Election Day for a 'do-over' if their ballot has already been certified.
RITCHIE: But those that have arrived after will be held until after the closing of the election, and then once polls are closed, then those ballots are then, like.. everyone else's actually counted. So that's a two-step process of starting Friday night at 5, doing the processing of the ballots that have been arrived. Often it's the rest of them are held until the end of voting the night of Tuesday, sometimes they'll do it Tuesday at midnight or Wednesday morning, and then once those are all completely done then we'll have a total from all of those ballots.
WEBER: So if I vote absentee and I get it back to the office, I mail it back and it gets there by the end of business Friday, it's going to be processed and I can't then show up on Election Day and say "I made a mistake, I'd like a do-over."
RITCHIE: You're absolutely correct.
WEBER: I can't do that.
RITCHIE: It is a significant change from our older system, and it came out of some of the lessons we learned from the big recount [in 2008]. It's a huge job to process those ballots. We used to make the election judges in our 4,000 local polling places do it late at night after the election in the polling place. It was just too much, this system of processing them at the county level is much more uniform, but it has - as you have correctly pointed out - that one significant change that if your ballot is in by 5 on Friday, then your ballot will be cast...
WEBER: And you're done.
RITCHIE: You're done.
WEBER: So if I send in my absentee ballot in that window, between Friday and it doesn't get to your office until Monday or Tuesday with the county office, then can I go in on Election Day and make a change?
RITCHIE: If your ballot had been received and processed, it would say "received and processed," it would say "voted," and you would not be given another ballot. But if on the poll roster it did not say that your ballot had been processed - that you had not voted - you could cast your ballot there. If your absentee ballot had arrived by mail, let's say on Monday or possibly on Tuesday, they would look at the poll roster before they opened or processed your absentee ballot, and if it said you had come in and voted then your absentee ballot, which had arrived after the Friday deadline, would be set aside - it would not be cast.
WEBER: So the only way to do a do-over essentially is if you've mailed the absentee kind of so it arrives in that window?
RITCHIE: It's a very narrow window.
WEBER: I can also now this year go online to see if you got my absentee ballot? It's like tracking a UPS package?
RITCHIE: Exactly. www.mnvotes.org. On there, you can look up to make sure your registration is all set, you can make sure where you're supposed to vote, it's been a big year with redistricting, you can check your absentee ballot and get help in doing that process, and then of course My Ballot, which will give you the information- who and what is on your ballot.
WEBER: Karen online also wonders, "How can I verify that relatives that passed away have been removed from voter rolls?"
RITCHIE: Great question. The most direct of course is to contact the chief election official in the county, where the person, the loved one, lived. Typically it's called the County Auditor - [the auditor] has the ownership and control of that local list and they could answer that question, really directly.
WEBER: A question from the blog, for people who are homeless, how do they know where to vote, and what are the options for proving you're in the right place frankly, when you go to the poll?
RITCHIE: You can register and you should register to vote where you sleep. And so if that's at the homeless shelter, if that's with a friend, if that's under the bridge, those are the locations where you live and your polling place will be indicated according to where those are located, and if one of those addresses is not one you can be very specific about, you try to be as close as you can.
If the county who's processing your voter registration form can't verify the specific, let's say that bridge, it will say "Challenged," and when you come in to vote, you'll be asked a series of questions to just verify that fact. But if you're in a homeless shelter in a church, or some other facility that's operated, the staff in that shelter can also help you with your voter registration on Election Day.
This is also the case for women who are victims of domestic violence and who are in shelters for protection. We have many different people who find themselves suddenly not where they would normally be. They're suddenly in a shelter for victims of domestic violence- or they're in a shelter for people who are homeless with their family, and so the rules have been developed to make sure that those individuals have the ability to vote.
That person from the shelter- the domestic violence shelter - can vouch for a person only to the extent that they say "Yes, that person is staying in our shelter. That's where that person is sleeping or staying." Or "Yes, that woman is a resident in our shelter for women who've been victims of domestic violence."
WEBER: That's for same-day registration.
RITCHIE: Yes. And typically it's best to get registered before the deadline because it just makes the whole process faster and easier, but you don't know when you might become homeless or you might need to flee a dangerous situation at home.
WEBER: Mel is wondering on the blog about, people with developmental disabilities who want to vote: "How can we help them vote, not vote for them."
RITCHIE: We make it clear that individuals can have assistance. We have very strict rules about how that assistance is provided, but we make sure that we are not disenfranchising someone who has the right to vote.
WEBER: But that means there are cases where someone is sitting next to the voter, or standing next to the voter, and is being told "I want you to vote for that candidate," and then it's the other person is actually filling out the ballot.
RITCHIE: Yes, and there's also some special machines that can help people do that, but we are always on the lookout for, situations where somebody might have attempted to influence how another person voted.
But in this case, we find that there's a high degree of respect for people's privacy, their independence, and we urge local election officials- election judges, who are sometimes asked to be that assistant, to invite- and in that instance they always have two officials, typically Republican and Democrat although we have independents as well.
We often urge individuals who are helping a person to bring a second assistant in, it's just a practice that's maybe not always possible in small towns or in all circumstances, but it's just a good thing to do.
But why this is important now is that- let's look into the future - those changing demographics. With more young adults with different kind of challenges, with more, soldiers and others who've served in the military coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with different kind of traumatic brain injury and other injuries, with aging population 100 years old and older being the fastest-growing segment of our population.
We are going to have more questions and this sorting out and making sure we're doing a good job, both of protecting the integrity of our elections but also, making sure our polling places and our polling procedures are respectful of and considering these changing physical circumstances of our population.
Transcription by MPR News' Ben Martin