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Automatic absentee ballot distribution, more early voting get committee OK

An early voting site pictured in October 2020. (House Photography file photo)

Minnesota often ranks No. 1 in the country for voter turnout, and DFL members of a House committee are backing a bill to help further cement that statistic.

Sponsored by Rep. Liz Boldon (DFL-Rochester), HF3024, as amended, would create an option for voters to join an absentee voter registration list that would automatically provide an absentee ballot prior to each election and it would expand early voting. It has no Senate companion.

“Early voting in Minnesota is not new. This bill only seeks to streamline the process and give additional peace of mind and flexibility to voters,” she told the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee Friday. Committee approval was given Monday on an 8-5 party-line vote with the bill’s next stop being the House Ways and Means Committee.

Currently, the approximately 26,000 Minnesotans who have signed up for the permanent absentee ballot list are sent an application before each election. Upon its return, a ballot is then mailed.

“This is an unnecessary additional step for voters who have already indicated they wish to be a permanent absentee voter. It’s also an extra step for election administrators,” Boldon said.

Per the bill, absentee ballots must be mailed:

  • at least 46 days before each regularly scheduled primary or general election for federal, state, county, city, or school board office;
  • at least 46 days before each special primary or special election to fill a federal, state, county, city, or school board vacancy; and
  • at least 30 days before a town general election held in March.

Additionally, the bill would expand from seven to 30 days when early voting would be permitted prior to Election Day.

“Instead of filling out an application and placing it in a signature envelope to be opened at a later date away from the voter, this bill would allow the voter to sign in, similar to how we do now at the polling place, sign the voter certificate and then receive their ballot to cast then and there,” Boldon said.

The change, she said, would provide more flexibility, reduce administrative costs, put voters at ease knowing their ballot was accepted, and would allow the voter to immediately acquire a replacement ballot if an error occurred.

“Not only would this save taxpayers money, but also provide convenience to voters and reduce the workload of local election officials who already carry heavy workloads,” Anna Froehling, president of the League of Women Voters of Rochester, said Friday.  

Speaking at Friday’s hearing, Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) noted a new requirement in the bill would have an unfunded mandate: “The county auditor or municipal clerk must designate a sufficient number of locations to ensure that one polling place exists for every 50,000 people in the county.”

“Counties are stretched thin and don’t have the resources to do this,” added Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia).

At that hearing, Boldon said she does not have a cost per county, but the bill would also provide savings by changing the permanent absentee voter process.

However, an amendment succesfully offered Monday by Boldon would provide $184,000 in funding in fiscal year 2023 and $37,000 in fiscal year 2024.

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