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Senate special election beset by concerns over mail-in votes

There's a lot of interest in the Senate District 11 special election.

You may not be aware of this, but a special election with significant implications for the Minnesota Senate is being held on Tuesday.

Voters in Senate District 11, covering an area to the southwest of Duluth, will take to the polls tomorrow to elect a new state senator.

It comes after the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Tony Lourey, was appointed by new Gov. Tim Walz to be his human services commissioner, sparking Tuesday's special election.

Vying to take his place is DFLer Stu Lourey – Tony's son, Republican Jason Rarick, and Legal Marijuana Now's John Birrenbach.

The election is a significant one because right now, with the seat vacant, the Republicans have a majority of two in the Minnesota Senate.

If Lourey wins, it narrows to one, if Rarick wins it goes to three, and if Birrenbach wins the GOP will keep a 2-seat lead over the Democrats.

Concerns over mail-in ballots

The timing of the election and its implications for the Senate has seen a lot of money spent on the race, with Lourey and Rarick both having campaign war chests in the six-figures, while the Star Tribune reports national parties/outside groups are expected to "spend millions" on the race.

But there are concerns being raised firstly over the potential turnout, with the election happening so soon after the November mid-terms, MPR notes that many in the district aren't aware there's a vote being held on Tuesday.

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Another major concern is that some people's votes may not be counted altogether. 

This was a problem during the January primaries for the seat, which saw hundreds of mail-in ballots not counted because of postal service cuts and the quick turnaround between the special election being triggered and the primary being held.

Those same concerns have been raised ahead of Tuesday, with the Duluth News Tribune reporting that some voters in some of the district's "mail-only" precincts hadn't received their mail-in ballots as of the end of last week, when postal service was disrupted by the Polar Vortex.

This prompted calls for a change to the special election process from Secretary of State Steve Simon, who is the state's chief election official, to give more time for mail-in voters to have their votes counted.

Last week, he said that the mail-in ballot problems could cause hundreds of voters to be "disenfranchised ... because of an outdated state law."

"The tight timeframe for special elections means people who receive their ballot by mail might not get it fast enough to mail back in time to be counted," he tweeted. "The legislature needs to change that."

Currently, special election law states that when vacancies occur, the governor needs to issue a writ calling for a special election within 5 days. A special election must then be held within 35 days of that writ being issued.

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