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Minnesotans encouraged to vote early by mail this election year

Voters can apply now for mail-in ballots.

Wednesday, May 13, is the first day Minnesotans can request an absentee ballot be sent to your home for voting in the 2020 elections, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

“We need to treat the upcoming statewide elections as a public health issue," Simon said in a statement. "To slow the spread of COVID-19 we need to reduce large gatherings, including at polling places. I’m challenging all eligible Minnesota voters to cast their vote from the safety of their home.

"In the face of this pandemic, it is the right thing to do to protect Minnesotans who are most at risk - and the people who care for them. Fortunately, it’s very easy to do."

With the COVID-19 pandemic expected to continue into the fall, Minnesotans are being encouraged to vote early by mail instead of voting in person on Election Day. 

Minnesotans can apply for mail-in ballots for the August primary and the November general election at mnvotes.org. All you need to do is fill out a few pieces of information (address, identification number, last four digits of your social security number, birth date and email address) and click submit to apply for the mail-in ballot(s).

Anyone who is eligible to vote in Minnesota can vote by mail. It's important to apply for your ballot at least 10 days before the election so there's enough time to receive the ballot and for the voter to return them, the city of Minneapolis said in a news release.

Not only does the Secretary of State encourage voting by mail this year, but so does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says using voting methods, such as mail-in ballots, that minimize direct contact with other people and reduce the size of crowds at polling stations can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Efforts to expand mail-in voting

A proposal to send every eligible Minnesota voter a ballot in the mail amid the pandemic was not included in an election bill that Gov. Tim Walz signed into law on Tuesday.

The new law, H.F. 3429, improves voting accessibility; modernizes election security; allocates HAVA funds to ensure the health and safety of election officials and voters; includes preparation for increased absentee voting, new polling locations, and public outreach for implementing social distancing guidelines related to voting, a news release from the governor's office says.

But, according to the Star Tribune, the governor is looking at other options to make it easier for Minnesotans to vote by mail, noting the only way to do so would be by executive action.

Republicans in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States have questioned the integrity of mail-in voting, especially after President Donald Trump falsely claimed it is corrupt (all voter fraud is extremely rare, the New York Times reports). There is also no evidence that voting by mail gives one political party an advantage, Five Thirty Eight found.

Mail-in voting isn't a perfect solution, though. A lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court by the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Educational Fund on Wednesday aims to protect the rights of older Minnesotans who cannot get a witness signature on their mail-in ballot due to self quarantining, especially as health officials say a second wave of the virus is likely in the fall, a news release says. 

"I have a constitutional right to vote and have my vote counted,” Teresa Maples, of Red Wing, a member of the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans and a registered voter in Goodhue County, said in the release.

"I am 66 and have several serious health conditions. I am particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus and at risk of contracting COVID-19. There is no question that I will be unable to vote in person because I am strictly following the social distancing and self-isolation guidelines. Because I live alone and cannot safely obtain a witness signature, my vote may never be counted.”

The lawsuit also cites concerns about the U.S. Postal Service and the financial difficulties it is facing, which could prevent mail-in ballots from being delivered by Election Day, despite voters' "best efforts" to comply with the deadline. 

The Alliance for Retired Americans has also filed lawsuits to protect vote by mail in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

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