Some cities/townships may choose the option of mail-in only balloting for local, state, and federal elections. The option is only available to those precincts with less than 400 registered voters. The use of mail-in only ballots is authorized by Minnesota Statute 204B.45.
The cities of Whalan, Canton and Fountain, and Newburg Township are planning to use the mail-in only option. The decision to do so is authorized by the city council or township board through the passage of a resolution selecting the mail-in only option. A precinct with less than 400 registered voters on June 1 of an election year may apply to the county auditor to conduct the upcoming election by mail-in only. This option remains in effect for future elections until revoked by the governing body of the precinct.
The mail-in option allows smaller precincts to save on the cost of elections. Smaller cities and townships have difficulty finding enough election judges. Judges are paid for their service to be at their precinct from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day. Fillmore County provides the election judges/trained staff to tabulate mail-in ballots and absentee ballots. The county essentially acts as the polling place for mail-in only precincts on election day. Carrie Huffman, acting county auditor, has estimated that the cost per ballot per registered voter is $1.25 each.
Ballots are sent to all registered voters in the precinct no more than 46 days and no later than 14 days before a scheduled election. A postage paid return envelope is included along with a ballot secrecy envelope and instructions for returning the ballots.
Registered voters also may vote by absentee ballot if absent during the mail-in balloting process.
The return envelope must be signed by the voter and witnessed by another authorized person, who can be another registered voter.
If a city or township which has resolved to use the mail-in option grows in population of registered voters beyond 400, the precinct would then be ineligible for the mail-in option. A city or township which still qualifies (under 400 registered voters) can opt to return to the traditional voting process by resolution passed by the governing body.
At the November 7 Fillmore County Board meeting, approval was given to apply for grant funds from the Voting Equipment Grant Account. A total of $7 million has been appropriated by the state for new voting equipment. The grant requires a 50% match for optical scan counters and assistive voting devices and a 25% match for electronic rosters. Grant funds are to be awarded in early 2018 and must be used by August 31, 2019. Any funds not used by that date are to be returned to the Minnesota Office of Secretary of State.
Huffman expects the new equipment to cost $220,000. The county budgeted $58,000 last year to help pay their portion of the new equipment. The county is requesting grant funds to pay a portion of the cost of the new equipment for all 37 precincts, plus equipment for Fillmore County as the absentee ballot precinct.
There are multiple precincts within the county that are combined, so if a precinct opting for mail-in balloting grows to more than 400 registered voters or chooses to opt out of the mail-in only process, there will still be equipment available for that precinct. That equipment will have been paid for with county and grant funds. A single polling location in the county in some cases may serve two to three precincts.