Should a voter be given a second chance if their absentee ballot is rejected on a technicality?
That was a question before the Crow Wing County Board on Tuesday. In the end, the issue had staunch opposition from one board member and a compromise proposition was approved.
County Auditor Deborah Erickson told commissioners the Legislature provided counties with a new option to form an absentee ballot board. She said a Crow Wing County Absentee Ballot Board would provide two benefits in making sure as many votes count as possible and in saving on the massive workload for election judges on the day of the primary or general election - particularly with a presidential election approaching.
The ballot board would meet before the primary and general election to review the absentee ballots. If ballots were rejected - for example the voter or witness didn't sign the back of the ballot return envelop or if the voter wrote in their Florida address instead of their Minnesota one - a second ballot would be mailed to the voter. And the voter would have an opportunity to correct the problem.
"It's very rare," Erickson said of technical deficiencies on return envelopes. "A very small number of absentee ballots are rejected because of that purpose."
Commissioner Paul Thiede said he was strongly opposed to the idea. Thiede quoted the Founding Fathers as saying the only way the republic can succeed is with an educated electorate.
This change would add a whole level of review for people who can't follow directions, Thiede said.
In a presidential election, Erickson said the auditor's office will send out 15,000 absentee ballots.
There are precincts, including those in Thiede's district, Erickson said, with a particularly heavy absentee vote - perhaps 1,000 ballots - as residents go south for the winter.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen questioned whether the change would mean a greater cost to the county. Erickson said the cost of using election judges for the ballot board likely would be a wash as it would mean they could start their work later on Election Day to process the mail ballots.
"I believe this just flies in the face of responsible citizenship," Thiede said, adding people who take the responsibility to vote ought to read and follow instructions and if they don't that is part of the process.
On Election Day, a voter who goes to a precinct in person can re-do their ballot if they make a mistake.
Erickson said people do make mistakes and the bigger issue is the workload for the election judges. Election judges may start at 5 a.m. and not be done working until 11 p.m. or later on Election Day.
In the last presidential election, Crow Wing County registered 10,000 voters at the polls on Election Day in a county with a traditionally high voter turnout.
Erickson said the ballot board would be able to take some of the burden off election judges at the precinct polling places.
"I believe these issues are where we are seeing the destruction of our country, quite frankly," Thiede said. "Because it is that important. I believe that people take responsibility and if the responsibility is simply that you have to follow the instructions when you vote I don't see that as a problem."
Board Chairwoman Rachel Reabe Nystrom asked if a board member had a motion on the issue. No one spoke right away. Franzen and Commissioner Dewey Tautges said they could see both sides of the issue.
County Attorney Don Ryan suggested a compromise. As the requirement to mail a second ballot to a voter ends five days before the election, Ryan said the ballot board could be created and meet within that five-day window and solve the issue. Erickson agreed that was a workable process.
The board voted in favor, with Thiede opposed.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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