Some Minnesota absentee voters worried about ballots

Boxes of absentee ballots
Boxes of absentee ballots are stacked at the Ramsey County Elections Office.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

The battle over rejected absentee ballots is sparking questions in the minds of some Minnesota Public Radio listeners who voted absentee.

Eden Prairie voter Sally Burns is worried; she never gave it a second thought when she cast her absentee ballot in the past.

"I have always assumed that that ballot goes to my precinct and is counted with regular votes," Burns said. "But with all the discussion it occurs to me that I don't know that for a fact."

Minneapolis voter Lindsey Jackson has the same question.

"I'm just curious if my absentee ballot was counted," Jackson said.

Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky has been getting some calls like that too. About one in ten Minnesotans voted absentee in this election, close to 300,000 ballots total, and local election officials rejected a small percentage of those ballots.

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"A few people, "Mansky said. "I wouldn't say that it's a lot."

DFL candidate Al Franken's campaign estimates the rejected ballots number at least in the hundreds, however.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said his office doesn't keep a tally of rejected absentee ballots. Ritchie sais if Mary or Lindsey wants to know whether her ballot was counted, she should get in touch with her county auditor.

"Absentee ballots are handled at the local level, mostly at the county level, sometimes by the city," Ritchie said. "So the call that I would recommend is to their local election office."

There's a list of those offices on the Secretary of State's Web site.

Ramsey County's Joe Mansky said his office might not be able to answer right away, but they're compiling a list of everyone who cast a valid ballot this year as we speak.

"We should all be done with our posting activity in three weeks, at that point all of that information will become public," Mansky said.

Mansky said there are several reasons absentee ballots are disqualified.

"If they came in late or came in after Election Day," Mansky said. "If we were unable to properly compare your signature on the return envelope with the signature on your application or if it was not witnessed properly."

Your ballot can also be rejected if you aren't registered to vote in the precinct, and don't include a same-day voter registration application with your absentee ballot. A number of county elections officials said the biggest mistake absentee voters make is they just forget to sign the envelope.

Though, as Mansky pointed out, local election officials also make sure the signature on the ballot envelope matches the signature on the voter's absentee ballot application.

"Obviously this is not a scientific activity, and for the most part, if the two signatures are close, we would go ahead and accept those," Mansky said. "But, if it's clear that two different people signed the application and the envelope, then we would not accept those."

So, if you vote absentee next time around, remember to sign the envelope. Also, remember to have another registered Minnesota voter or a notary public witness and sign the envelope.

Get your ballot in early as well. Absentee ballots received after Election Day aren't counted.

If you do make a mistake and you get your ballot in early enough, there's a good chance your local election officials will notify you of the mistake, and get a new ballot out to you in time to fix it.

Secretary of State Ritchie said Minnesota should make every effort to help absentee voters avoid spoiling their ballots. With the percentage of Minnesotans who vote absentee on the rise, he hopes legislators will look for ways to streamline the process.

"We know there's a trend line here that our legislation and our administration of elections need to catch up to the citizens, and that's part of our work in the next legislative session and beyond," Ritchie said.

But Ritchie said those reforms will have to wait until after the recount is settled.

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Curtis Gilbert and Molly Bloom co-host Minnesota Public Radio's Electionwise podcast. You can send them a question about politics, policy and politicians, then subscribe to the Electionwise podcast and listen for the answer each week.