There has been a lot of confusion in recent weeks about the process of voting in the Nov. 3 election. As the result of COVID-19, there has been a push by many groups – government and independent alike – promoting absentee voting and voting by mail.
However, Wright County Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala – the highest ranking elections official in the county – wants voters to know that there is no requirement to vote absentee and that all polling places that accepted voting for previous elections will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day to allow people to vote in the traditional manner if they so choose.
“My voter outreach message is that I want people to have the assurance that you can go to the polling places,” Hiivala said. “We’ve got them PPE (Personal Protection Equipment). They have shields. They have face masks. They have sanitizers. They have markers to stage social distancing and they’ve made improvements to the precincts. People don’t have to be afraid to go to the polling places. If they’re concerned that their vote won’t get counted using a different method of submitting ballots, voting at your local precinct remains an option open to everyone.”
Hiivala understands that many are going to take the option of voting absentee – either by mail, drop-off or in-person prior to Nov. 3. All of those options have been much-publicized, but with conflicting messages coming out in the media and from partisan committees and groups claiming to be official, his concern is that people may be misled into thinking mail-in voting is the only option this year. It isn’t.
“For those who want to vote early, they do have options,” Hiivala said. “One of those options is to come to the Government Center and cast your ballot early. We’ve had many people do that already and expect many, many more to do that between now and November 3rd. We have the equipment set up that would make it identical to what you would have if you came to the Government Center on Election Day and voted.”
Hiivala added that the technology involved with the voting tabulators will allow those who choose to vote in person at the Wright County Government Center or at the city halls of the eight cities in the county that are open for in-person voting (Albertville, Buffalo, Delano, Hanover, Howard Lake, Monticello, Otsego and St. Michael) and identify mistakes if there is some confusion as to how to properly fill out a ballot. Mail-in ballots can’t be corrected. Placing a ballot into the secure tabulator can inform a voter if a mistake has been made in completing the ballot process. The ability to place votes directly into the tabulator will start seven days prior to the election. Until then, voters can fill out a ballot, seal it and have it processed when the tabulators begin counting votes Oct. 27.
“You have the option when you vote early of filling out your ballot and sliding it into the tabulator,” Hiivala said. “It goes into a lock box and you have the assurance that nobody has tampered with it and that it has been counted. When you put your ballot in the tabulator and something hasn’t been completed properly, you get an error message. If you do the absentee ballot and there is something wrong in completing it, you can’t open them until seven days prior to the election. In that case, you don’t know whose ballot it is, so you can’t contact them and let them know that something went wrong with completing their ballot.”
Absentee and mail-in voting is going to shatter all existing records for non-traditional ways of having one’s voice heard at the ballot box. It did throughout the country in the August primary election and the number of absentee ballot requests all but guarantees it will happen again in the general election.
With lingering concerns over safety as the pandemic continues to roll on with no signs of stopping any time soon – much less within the next 34 days prior to Election Day – many will use alternate options to vote. But, Hiivala wants to assure residents who fear that their ballots may not get counted by using alternate voting methods that the time-honored form of voting is available, safe and ready to accept as many voters want to vote at their local precincts.
“I just want our residents to know that they have multiple options to cast their ballots,” Hiivala said. “We don’t want residents to think that precincts won’t be open. On Election Day, anyone who wants to go to their polling place like they always have, it will be open, fully staffed and we will be doing everything in our power to make the voting experience as safe, secure and efficient as we possibly can.”