Election 2022

You asked: Are absentee ballots counted before the rest of the votes?

A woman wearing a face mask sorts through envelopes.
Election judge Nancia Santine uses a machine to slit open a pile of absentee ballot secrecy envelopes at the Ramsey County Absentee Ballot Counting Center in St Paul on Nov. 3.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

An MPR News reader asked: “Are absentee ballots counted before the rest of the votes? Or are they loaded into the machine at the polling place along other ballots?”

We asked David Maeda, the deputy secretary of state and the state elections director, to answer that for us in detail. 

The government does not count absentee ballots before the rest of the votes. However, they are run through a tabulator beginning Tuesday, Nov. 1. 

A tabulator is a specialized computer software that can read ballots with optical scanning equipment. It works like this: imagine absentee ballots as birthday presents safely accounted for by the tabulator — the excited child counting how many presents there are but oblivious to what is inside.

Then the election judges — the parents of the tabulator — allow it to open all the boxes on their birthday, Election Day. It finally yells in glee what each present is, revealing what each ballot says. 

Where are absentee ballots stored before Election Day? 

“All 87 counties have to do absentee balloting. The county stores absentee ballots either at the government center or courthouse, wherever the election office is. In the metro area, in particular, many of our cities do absentee ballots, so they are stored at the city hall if the city does absentee balloting,” Maeda said. 

As of Thursday, Minnesota officials had accepted 282,277 ballots — some in-person absentee, some absentee by mail and some from mail-only precincts. According to deputy communications director and press secretary Cassondra Knudson of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

The absentee ballots are stored until election officials and judges count absentee ballots at the same time as votes cast on Election Day, starting at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 or once the last voter finishes voting. 

Are all absentee ballots counted? 

Another concern Maeda points out that some voters may have is that an absentee vote “only counts if the race is close.” 

Maeda responded, “We wouldn’t know if a race was close until we counted all the ballots. They all get counted, and they all get counted equally.” Which is to say, every absentee ballot is counted. 

How can I cast an absentee ballot? 

“In-person absentee voting is a subgroup of absentee voting,” Maeda said. “People absentee vote two different ways.

The first option is “by mail, so they can apply on our website or send a paper application to their county. Then the county mails them a ballot they can mail back to the county to be accepted and counted.”

The second way is when “counties, starting 46 days before Election Day, open for in-person absentee voting. So you can go to your county government center, sometimes city hall, and apply for an absentee ballot for the county to issue it.”

You vote early with an absentee ballot at your county election office, not at polling station sites. Maeda suggested to “call your county to check your absentee voting in-person location is, or if you’re curious about other options.” 

If you want to check the status of your ballot, you can go to the Minnesota Secretary of State Office website and input your name, date of birth and ID number (either a driver’s license or state ID number, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your passport number)  to find your county election office information.

Who can vote absentee? 

In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature expanded who is allowed to absentee vote, and change went into effect for the 2014 elections. Before then you needed a valid reason why you couldn’t vote on Election Day. 

The last day to absentee vote in-person is Monday, Nov. 7 at 5 p.m.

Do absentee ballots make it possible for someone to vote twice? 

The application for an absentee ballot actually “creates a unique record for that voter so people can’t get more than one absentee ballot. It’s all tracked in the statewide registration system,” Maeda said. 

Election officials and election judges can see in the statewide voter database if someone has already voted absentee.

It’s November – is it too late to mail in my absentee ballot? 

In regards to mailing your absentee ballot, Maeda said as of Friday, “We’re getting pretty close where I’d be uncomfortable as a voter doing that. Technically there is no deadline for mailing somebody an absentee ballot, but you want your ballot received before Election Day for it to get counted.”

However, if you received an absentee ballot in the mail and filled it out, you can still drop it off at a county elections center until 3 p.m. on Election Day.

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What are your questions about the upcoming election in Minnesota?

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