With fewer than 50 days to go before Election Day, about 40% of Crow Wing County’s registered voters are already expected to vote by either absentee or mail ballot.

Deborah Erickson, Crow Wing County administrative services director and elections head, told the county board Tuesday, Sept. 15, the volume of absentee ballot requests is up significantly compared to the last three elections, which saw 20-25% of the county’s registered voters participating by mail. Erickson said 12,500 voters live in mail ballot precincts — either those that already voted by mail or those that opted to vote that way in 2020 only — and another 4,500 voters have submitted applications for absentee ballots.

“We do expect to continue to see that number go up, as in-person absentee voting begins when people choose to vote prior to Election Day but do it here at the courthouse in person,” Erickson said. “We also expect to see the number increase for those who are requesting a ballot by mail as well.”

Ballots for those in the military or overseas are expected to go into the mail starting Friday, with mail ballots and absentee ballots beginning their journeys to voters’ mailboxes Sept. 25.

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Erickson sought to clarify confusion from voters who’ve called the county concerning absentee ballot applications they’ve received in the mail. She said these voters wondered why they’d received these applications when it was something they did not request. These applications can be sent out by a number of groups — either partisan or nonpartisan — that purchase lists of registered voters’ addresses, Erickson said.

“This is something that has happened in every election previous as well, that they often will mail an absentee ballot application along with the literature that they are sending out to assist voters in getting access to an application,” Erickson said. “I think people are confusing an application for a ballot, because we've had several questions and calls from people saying, ‘Well why did I get a ballot in the mail but I didn’t even ask for one?’

“Well, no ballots have been sent out yet, so you’ve gotten an application, you haven’t received a ballot. Our office will never send out applications that include any type of partisan material or literature that goes along with it, we've received some calls about that as well.”

Erickson said these applications are often prepopulated with voters’ names, addresses and other information, which is valid and able to be sent in to receive an absentee ballot from the county. She cautioned voters, however, to only submit one application. The elections office only becomes aware of a duplicate application upon inputting all the information for verification, she said, which creates more work for staff.

The best way to track the status of a mail or absentee ballot, Erickson said, is by visiting mnvotes.org. A tracking webpage asks voters to input their name, birthdate and an identification number — either a driver’s license or state ID, the last four digits of their Social Security number or a U.S. passport number — to view the status of their ballot. Otherwise, voters may call 218-824-1051 to check on their ballots or to ask questions concerning the election process.

“That’s the best way to know whether or not your vote has counted, not going to the polling place on Election Day to see if your absentee ballot has counted,” Erickson said.

Erickson said voters should plan to allow for five to seven days of delivery time for their ballots through the mail, noting the county elections office will continue to accept and count ballots up through seven days after Election Day. Ballots may also be delivered to a staffed dropbox or filled out in a voting booth at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse.

If people are unable to deliver their ballots themselves, someone else can deliver the ballot for them, but Erickson noted there are additional regulations associated with this type of submission. These authorized agents can only deliver ballots for up to three additional voters beyond themselves, and they must sign a form including their name and address along with the name and address of the voter whose ballot they’re returning. These agents cannot be the employer or the union representative of the voter whose ballot they’re submitting.

Erickson offered a shoutout to the Brainerd postal workers who she said made several trips to deliver primary election ballots to the historic courthouse in the days leading up to primary election day.

“In fact, we even had a postal carrier from the Aitkin post office, a Crow Wing County ballot accidentally ended up in the Aitkin post office on election day and somebody actually brought it over from the Aitkin post office to our office to make sure it got counted,” Erickson said. “So, those postal workers are doing everything they can to make sure that every ballot gets here and gets counted.”

Commissioner Paul Koering asked Erickson to respond to a scenario he presented in which someone might steal ballots from people’s mailboxes, fill them out and turn them in themselves.

“What are you going to do then when you start hearing from people and they’re saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t get my ballot,’ and you’ll say, ‘No, your ballot is here,’” Koering said. “I mean, couldn’t that be an issue?”

Erickson replied it could be an issue, however, she noted the acts of tampering with mail, impersonating a voter or filling out a ballot for someone else are all felonies. In addition, a team of two election judges, each representing a different political party, will review each ballot envelope received and can compare the signature on the envelope with the signature on a voter’s absentee ballot application. This presents another good reason to keep track of when a ballot is supposed to arrive in the mail, Erickson said, and calling the elections office if it’s missing.

“There are opportunities for a voter to sign an affidavit that says, I didn’t receive my ballot or I spoiled it,” she said. “They can sign that affidavit, we can give them a new ballot and only that second ballot would be counted. So there are remedies and opportunities if a voter says, ‘I didn’t get my ballot.’”

If anything about mail balloting makes a voter uncomfortable, Erickson reiterated any voter in Crow Wing County can vote in person, no matter where they live, by visiting the second floor of the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse, 326 Laurel St., Brainerd.

Voting quick facts

  • Visit mnvotes.org to register to vote, check on registration, find polling places, track an absentee or mail ballot, view a sample ballot and more. Crow Wing County voters may also call 218-824-1051 for more information.

  • Plan for five to seven days of delivery time for a mail-in or absentee ballot.

  • Plan for ballots to continue to be counted during the seven days following Election Day — a change due to the pandemic and expected influx of mail voting.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.