New Election Law to Address COVID-19
One of the COVID-19 issues considered by the Legislature this year was how to address the State Primary Election on August 11, and the Statewide General Election on November 3. One early proposal suggested statewide mail balloting for all Minnesotans, but MAT successfully informed the Legislature of the desire in some communities to maintain their local in-person polling places. As a result, town boards have local control of whether they hold an in-person election. Town boards should consider: (1) whether their election judges are still willing to serve; (2) whether their polling place can accommodate social distancing which is expected to be required for both statewide elections; and (3) whether their community wants to have a local polling place this year.
Regardless of the town board’s choice on a polling place, voters who want to vote absentee by mail may do so by requesting a ballot at this link.
The new election law passed by the Minnesota Legislature addresses some local government needs as they address the State Primary Election and State General Election. The new law, 2020 Session Law Chapter 77, is found at this link.
The new law provides the following:
- Towns boards may designate a new polling place, if needed, to address social distancing, combined polling places, or any other COVID-19 related election location need. Towns must designate the new polling place no later than July 1, 2020, regardless of the deadline provided in Minn. Stat. § 204B.16, subd. 1. Town boards may designate the new polling place by resolution of the board and provide notice of the change to the County Auditor. Towns changing their polling place must send written notice by registered mail of the change of polling locations to all registered voters within the town at least 25 days before the election. The new law indicates that schools are not supposed to be used as polling places unless there is no other reasonable location is available. Towns using a school as a poling place should consider if any other reasonable public or private location is available to serve as a polling place. Per Minn. Stat. § 204B.16, subd. 1, towns may use a polling place that is up to 5 miles outside the township if no location is acceptable within the township. If no other suitable location is available within the town or up to 5 miles outside the town, the town board may use a school as its polling place.
- The period to count absentee ballots is extended up to two days after the election, and any corresponding extension needed for canvassing results is also allowed. There is no change to the time allowed for voters to submit an absentee ballot.
- Processing of absentee ballots must begin 14 days before the date of the election. Voters who submitted an absentee ballot may not withdraw their absentee ballot and cast a new ballot once processing of absentee ballots begins.
- Federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds and Federal Coronavirus Relief Act (CARES Act) funds in the amount of over $17 million was appropriated for election purposes. Secretary of State Steve Simon indicated his intention that most of that funding be released to local governments for their election administration needs.
To maintain local polling places, townships need to have properly trained election judges. All townships are encouraged to help recruit election judges needed for their township and for any other townships that may need help.