Early voting for the Nov. 3 election started last Friday with absentee ballots and mail-in ballots.

The Douglas County Auditor’s Office was busy prepping a batch of 2,400 such ballots on Friday and will continue to send out ballots in the next couple of weeks.

“I’ve never seen such an intense interest in early voting before,” said Vicki Doehling, Douglas County elections administrator.

Vicki Doehling
Vicki Doehling

There’s a thicket of information on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s site – mnvotes.org – and on the Douglas County Auditor’s site, www.co.douglas.mn.us/elections-voting.

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Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Mail-only precincts

Ten precincts in Douglas County are allowing mail-in voting only. As was the case for the primary election in August, the 10 precincts include nine townships – Alexandria, Belle River, Brandon, Hudson, Ida, LaGrand, Lund, Moe, Spruce Hill – and one city, Millerville.

Boards for those jurisdictions voted to offer mail-in voting as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic. Mail balloting, by the way, can only be adopted by non-metro townships of any size, and cities with fewer than 400 registered voters.

Registered voters living in those 10 precincts will automatically receive a ballot around the first week of October from the county, according to Doehling. There is no need for them to request a ballot, unless they don’t receive it because they are not registered, she added.

Voters may verify their registration record online at www.mnvotes.org by selecting REGISTER TO VOTE (check my registration).

Registered voters in the 10 precincts with mail-in voting must return their ballot to the auditor-treasurer office. Voters who did not receive a ballot in the mail can vote either by absentee ballot or at the polling place on Election Day, which is the former First Lutheran Church building at 822 Douglas Street, Alexandria (use the west entrance off of the Cedar Street parking lot).

Voter instructions

Doehling urged all mail-in voters to read the instructions carefully because there are changes for this year’s election. Because of COVID-19 concerns, mail-in voters do not need to have a witness sign the ballot, unless they are not a registered voter. In that case, they will need to have a witness signature to indicate their proof of residence.

Worried about mistaking your ballot as junk mail and throwing it away? The ballot will arrive in a 6-by-10-inch envelope containing the words “OFFICIAL BALLOT MATERIAL” and a symbol declaring it as “OFFICIAL ELECTION MAIL.”

If you are a registered voter in a mail ballot precinct and do not receive a ballot in the mail at least two to three weeks before the election, you should contact the Douglas County Auditor-Treasurer office at 320-762-3077 and they will determine when your ballot was mailed and mark it as “spoiled/lost” to ensure the ballot will be rejected if it is ever returned.

Secure and accurate

The auditor-treasurer office is taking many precautions to make sure the voting process is safe, secure and accurate, Doehling said.

All ballots are kept in a vault and a minimum of two office employees handle the ballots and make sure the ballots are filled in correctly.

“There’s always a two-person check system,” Doehling said.

Returning ballots

All mail ballots must be returned to the Douglas County Auditor-Treasurer, 305 8th Ave W, Alexandria. A postage-paid envelope will be provided with your ballot. If you prefer not to mail it back, you (or a designated agent) may drop off your ballot in-person.

There is also a secure drop box located near the south entrance to the courthouse building. However, the drop box may only be used by a voter to return their own ballot, Doehling explained. Those delivering a ballot on behalf of another voter (agent delivery) must turn in the ballot directly to the auditor-treasurer’s office in person and the agent must show ID and have proper documentation. An agent may deliver a maximum of three ballots per election.

To be counted, a ballot must be received or postmarked by Election Day. Absentee ballots delivered in-person must be returned to the county auditor no later than 3 p.m. on Election Day.

All registered voters who receive their ballot in the mail, and choose to vote in that election, must vote using the ballot that was mailed to them and must return their voted ballot to the auditor-treasurer’s office.

A voter can change their mind after submitting a ballot by contacting the auditor-treasurer’s office by Oct. 20 and receiving a new ballot.

This year, counties throughout the state of Minnesota will have seven days after the election to tabulate accepted absentee ballots that were received or postmarked by the deadline of Nov. 3.

Polling places

The polling places for the precincts (other than the 10 with mail-in voting) will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. They are as follows:

Alexandria Ward 1, precinct 1 and precinct 2 – Lake Community Church.

Alexandria Ward 2 – Reach Church.

Alexandria Ward 3 – New Life Christian Church.

Alexandria Ward 4 – Cornerstone Church.

Alexandria Ward 5, precinct 1 and precinct 2 – Alexandria City Hall.

Brandon city – Brandon City Hall.

Carlos city – Carlos City Hall.

Carlos Township – Carlos Town Hall.

Evansville city and Evansville Township – Evansville City Hall.

Forada city – Forada City Hall.

Garfield city – Garfield City Hall and Community Center.

Holmes City Township – Holmes City Town Hall.

Kensington city – Kensington Community Center.

Lake Mary Township – Lake Mary Town Hall.

Leaf Valley Township – Leaf Valley Town Hall.

Millerville Township – Millerville Fire Hall.

Miltona city, Miltona Township – Miltona Community Center.

Nelson city – Nelson City Hall.

Orange Township, Osakis city, Osakis Township – Ed Pollard Community Center.

Solem Township – Kensington Rune Stone Park Visitor Center.

Urness Township – Urness Town Hall.

Applying for absentee/early ballots

To apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot online go to www.mnvotes.org and click on OTHER WAYS TO VOTE. To apply and vote by mail, an absentee ballot application may be printed from the mnvotes.org website or contact the auditor-treasurer office at 320-762-3077.

Absentee voting hours at the auditor-treasurer office are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 31; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2.

Eligible voters and pre-registering

If you are having difficulty renewing your driver’s license due to the pandemic, you are highly encouraged to pre-register to vote by the deadline of Oct. 13 so your residence can be verified prior to election day.

To be eligible to vote, a person must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age on Election Day and a resident of Minnesota for 20 days. They must be finished with all parts of any felony sentence. A person can vote while under guardianship unless a judge specifically has revoked their right to vote. A person cannot vote if a court has ruled that they are legally incompetent.

If you are not currently registered to vote, or have changed your name or address since you last voted, you may pre-register up to 21 days preceding any election by using one of the following methods:

  • Register in person at the county auditor-treasurer office.

  • Register online at www.mnvotes.org and select the link in the right margin titled “MN Secretary of State – Voter Information Page.” Print the registration form and mail it to the Douglas County Auditor’s Office at 305 8th Ave. W, Alexandria, MN 56308.

  • Register on Election Day by providing acceptable ID and registering with the election judge in the polling place where you live.

If you are not registered to vote or need to update your registration information on Election Day, you may do so at your local polling place. If you’re not sure which precinct you reside in or the polling place location, you may use the link in the right margin titled “MN Secretary of State – Voter Information Page” accessing the MN Secretary of State web site for assistance to find where you vote.

Everyone who registers on Election Day must provide one of the proofs of residence acceptable by law. Only proofs authorized by law may be used. A complete list of the requirements and acceptable proofs of ID and proof of residence can be found at www.mnvotes.org.