Legislature agrees on measures to make voting safer

Two people stand in booths as they vote.
Voters cast their ballots in the presidential primary at Precinct 10-8 at Whittier International Elementary School in Minneapolis on March 3, 2020.
Tom Baker for MPR News file

The Minnesota Senate has approved election changes meant to provide extra safety during the coronavirus pandemic, but the bill stops short of expanding voting by mail.

The Senate voted 66-1 Thursday to follow the House lead in approving the election bill, although minor changes mean it needs one more vote in the House before it goes to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz. 

The bill permits candidates to file electronically, extends the counting period for absentee ballots and releases $17 million in federal election money. 

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said her bill also provides more flexibility around polling place locations.

“The ability to relocate polling places away from sites that might not be safe for those who are vulnerable, in particular nursing homes, assisted living, congregate living-type situations,” she said.

Authorities would have had to make any location changes by the start of this year under current law.

While some had called for an expansion of vote by mail in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota law already allows people to use absentee ballots for any reason if they don’t want to vote in person.

The $17 million can be used for things like sanitizing polling places and enacting social distance requirements ahead of the August primary and November general election. 

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said that should provide voters more comfort.

“The easier we make it for them to vote, the more of them will vote. The more Minnesotans that vote, the more the results will reflect the will of the people,” he said. “And this bill is a good start.”

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