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Most area counties see uptick in early voting

WORTHINGTON -- Auditors offices across Minnesota and Iowa are open today for people to stop in and cast an absentee ballot ahead of Election Day Tuesday. They will also be open a little later on Monday.

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Rene Martinez, Worthington, works on completing an absentee ballot Thursday morning at the Nobles County Government Center in Worthington. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Auditors offices across Minnesota and Iowa are open today for people to stop in and cast an absentee ballot ahead of Election Day Tuesday. They will also be open a little later on Monday.

Gone are the days in which voters must give a valid reason for voting early. The so-called “no excuses” voting has led to an uptick in the number of ballots cast this year - and extra work in small-town Minnesota auditor’s offices that, aside from election-related duties, are also trying to get property tax statements out under a looming deadline.

The Nobles County Auditor’s Office in Worthington added a full-time temporary employee to help them get through the glut of absentee voters this election. Auditor-Treasurer Beth Van Hove reported Thursday that more than 930 absentee ballots have been received thus far of 1,136 total requests for absentee ballots. That number continued to rise as more people stopped in at the auditor’s office Thursday and Friday.

To accommodate the increased traffic, Van Hove said the number of voting booths in the hallway outside the auditor’s office increased from two to five in recent weeks.

She said the number of people voting by absentee ballot in Nobles County this year is anticipated to be more than double what it was in the 2014 general election. Then, 604 individuals cast absentee ballots.

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A 2014 change in the state law allows Minnesota voters to cast an absentee ballot regardless of whether they could make it to their polling place on election day. The new law has some people opting to vote early rather than face the possibility of standing in potentially long lines Tuesday.

“I’ve heard deer hunting, people going south for the winter, people out of town on business,” Van Hove said of the reasons she’s heard from some early voters. “Then there’s people who are election day judges, they’re voting absentee. There’s people that just don’t want to go out on Tuesday - some say they don’t want to go to the polls and deal with the crowds there.”

Minnesota voters could begin casting their ballots on Sept. 23, though auditors weren’t allowed to process those ballots until earlier this week.

“We can start actually tallying absentee votes seven days before the election, which is new,” Van Hove said. “We used to have to wait until after the polls closed at 8 p.m. before we could do that.”

Even with the change, she anticipates it will take considerably more time this year than it has in the past to process absentee ballots.

Minnesota auditors offices will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today for voters to stop in and vote early if they wish. Van Hove said she and eight of her staff will be working, and when they aren’t assisting individuals with absentee ballots, they have plenty of other work to get done.

“We’ll be preparing the materials that will go out to the election voting sites, making sure all of the equipment is ready to go … and there’s some behind-the-scenes work with reporting to the state,” she said. They will also feed the ballot machines with absentee ballots already cast, and for those who fill theirs out today.

Voters in Minnesota will have one more chance to vote absentee on Monday, when auditor’s offices can accept ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Tuesday, they will need to vote at their polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

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The flurry of early voting activity in Nobles County is similar to what other counties in the area are seeing as well.

Rock County Auditor-Treasurer Ashley Kurtz said it has been crazy at the Rock County Courthouse. As of Thursday, approximately 500 voters had cast absentee ballots. That compares to approximately 260 absentee ballots in the last general election.

In their small office, Kurtz said they squeeze in two voter booths, and there isn’t room for more. As a result, people are either waiting in line or taking their ballot into the hall, where they can sit and fill it out.

“We haven’t had any problems until this year,” Kurtz said of space for absentee voters to complete their ballot.

Kurtz believes part of the reason for the high number of individuals voting early this year is the attention given to the presidential race.

“People just seem more intrigued,” she said. “We have a lot of local races, too.”

In Rock County this year, 13 of the county’s 24 precincts must vote by mail ballot. Those numbers are not included in the absentee ballot count. In 2014, Kurtz said just five precincts were on mail-in ballots.

Tyler Reisch, auditor-treasurer in Pipestone County, said he anticipates a slight uptick in the number of absentee ballots cast there once early voting ceases.

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“The main thing I’ve heard is that people want to vote in the privacy of their own home and take the time to look over the ballot,” he said. As of Friday morning, 438 absentee and mail-in ballots had been cast in Pipestone County. That compares to 445 ballots in 2014.

“Usually the Saturday and Monday we get a lot of absentee ballots,” Reisch said, adding that two voting booths and a table that seats five or six people have been set up this year to accommodate early voters.

Jackson County Auditor-Treasurer Kevin Nordquist said there has been a steady stream of early voters visiting his office to complete an absentee ballot.

“It’s been pretty heavy,” he reported Friday morning. “We just have the one voting booth. Sometimes we have multiple people in line.”

So far, 439 absentee ballots have been filed in Jackson County this election season, compared to 259 absentee ballots cast in 2014.

Nordquist said Saturdays have typically been slow in Jackson County for absentee voting, but he’s tried getting the word out more this time around to encourage people to come in and vote early.

“It helps us out a lot because we do nearly all our township ballots on Tuesday night,” he said. “The more (ballots) we can run through early, the less we have to run through on Tuesday night after the polls close.”

In Jackson County, only five precincts have vote tabulators. The remaining 23 precincts bring their ballots in to the auditor’s office to be counted.

Cottonwood County Auditor-Treasurer Jan Johnson added a table in his office for early voters to complete their absentee ballots after noting increased traffic.

“(As of Thursday), I think we had accepted 550,” he said. “Two years ago we probably were at 400-something. We’ll be getting a lot of them between now and Tuesday.”

Johnson said voters are coming early because they want to avoid the rush, avoid standing in line and avoid dealing with traffic.

“Not that traffic is (congested) in Windom, but it’s still a hassle for them,” he said.

Johnson said the increased number of absentee ballots cast this year create a “tremendous amount of work for the auditor’s office” because they are collecting ballots from residents across the county, while on Election Day, each precinct deals with smaller numbers of voters.

The ability to begin processing absentee ballots this year has helped, Johnson said, but results still can’t be entered until after the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

“Most of these rural counties have small-staffed offices,” he said. “This is really pushing us.”

Johnson believes the number of individuals voting by absentee ballot will only increase in the future.

“I can see that people like it,” he said. “I could easily see that I would have to add staff for elections like this. Out in rural Minnesota, we still have to do 15 other things (besides the election).”

In northwest Iowa, the number of absentee ballots cast so far this year in Osceola and Lyon counties is similar to what it was during the last presidential election.

Osceola County Auditor Barb Echter said her office has received 817 absentee ballots as of the end of the day Thursday, compared to 812 completed absentee ballots four years ago. In Iowa, voters can visit their county auditor’s office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday to cast an absentee ballot. Polls in Iowa are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day Tuesday.

At the Lyon County Courthouse in Rock Rapids, Iowa, Clerk Carrie Johnson said 1,853 absentee ballots have been requested thus far for this election, with 1,658 of those already returned. During the last general election, she said the office had approximately 2,380 absentee ballots returned.

“Most of the time they’re busy or they just want to get it done and over with,” she said of voters choosing to complete an absentee ballot.

Still time to register Individuals who are not yet registered to vote in Tuesday’s election may still do so at their polling place on Tuesday. Voters must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age on election day, a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days and be finished with all parts of any felony service.

Van Hove said a valid ID with current name and address is required to vote. If an individual does not have a valid ID, a photo ID and document showing their current name and address is also acceptable. For more information about voter registration on election day, visit sos.state.mn.us.


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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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