Never voted by absentee before? A step by step video explains how to do it

The video covers absentee voting, a non-registered voter absentee ballot, and mail-only precinct ballots.

Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson talks about how to vote via mail or absentee ballot. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

With Election Day less than a month away, about half the registered voters in Crow Wing County have either requested an absentee ballot, voted early in person or live in a mail-ballot precinct.

That means a lot of voters are going to be putting their ballots in the mail or self-delivering them to the historic courthouse in Brainerd.

“We are going to see some significantly high numbers of absentee ballot processing this year,” said Deborah Erickson, Crow Wing County administrative services director.

With so many people voting by absentee ballots this year, and so many of them perhaps new to the process, Erickson went through each step for three kinds of voters in a Dispatch video. The step-by-step process notes how the envelopes should be put together, what goes in each envelope and highlights the spots that can be common causes of ballot rejection.


Step-by-step video shows how to complete ballots

  • The video begins with the steps to vote by absentee ballot, how to use the provided envelopes and what steps to be sure not to miss to make sure the vote is counted.

  • Information for non-registered voters, who will have a witness signing with them, begins at 5:33 minutes into the video. It covers the steps, what the witness needs to do and how to put the envelopes together.

  • The steps for mail-ballot precincts begin at 9:26 minutes.

  • Common issues and reasons why a ballot could be rejected begins at 11:12 minutes so voters can be sure to check those common causes to make sure their vote is counted.

  • Mail-only precinct ballots were mailed out last week and the county received calls wondering why the presidential election wasn’t on the ballot. It is. Voters need to turn the ballot over as there are election races on both sides. There are two sides to every ballot.

Rising trend for absentee voting

Crow Wing County has a history of having a significant percentage of people who choose to vote early by absentee because they leave the lakes area for warmer climates as the weather cools here.

“Being a snowbird community, we were oftentimes seeing 20% of our registered voters were voting by absentee ballot when they had to have a reason because they were gone on Election Day,” Erickson said. “With the advent of no-excuse absentee that started in 2014, we’ve seen that number continue to increase.”

By 2018, the percentage rose to about 25-27% vote by absentee prior to Election Day. Expectations were for that number to grow to about 30% just by a natural growth trend of people choosing to vote earlier. Erickson said they are hearing a lot of people are concerned with COVID-19 so they are choosing to vote from home, which people have done in the past. But for others, this may be the first time they haven’t gone to the polls in November.

“People are passionate about wanting to vote this year and get it done with and make sure their vote has a chance to be counted,” Erickson said.

Drive-thru ballot collection starts Oct. 14

Voters can also drop off their absentee or mail-in ballot at the polling place at the courthouse or put the postage paid and addressed envelope in the return mail. The U.S. Postal Service recommends voters mail their ballots at least seven days before Election Day. The Postal Service is also advocating that voters request their absentee ballot at least 15 days before Election Day. Another benefit of getting the absentee ballot early and submitting it comes if the ballot is rejected, there will be plenty of time to either get a new absentee ballot, vote early in person or vote on Election Day.

A drive-thru ballot drop will begin Oct. 14 and will be available 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 2. Election judges will be staffed in the county parking lot in front of the historic courthouse on Laurel Street in Brainerd and voters will be able to drive through and drop their ballots off without getting out of their vehicles.

Voters can also have someone deliver their ballot, such as a family member of older parents as an example. The person, called an agent in voting terms, cannot do that for more than three ballots and must present identification and sign an agent delivery log. The agent cannot be the voter’s employer or a representative of their employer’s union. Agents will also be able to use the ballot drive-thru.

Voters who want the satisfaction of putting their ballots through the tabulator machine will have that option at the courthouse beginning Oct. 27. For voters who live in a mail-ballot precinct who wish to vote in person, they should bring their ballot packet with their unvoted ballot to the courthouse. At that time, there will be a voting booth available where they can mark their ballot and place it in the tabulator.


In-person absentee voting ends at 5 p.m. Nov. 2, the day before Election Day. On Election Day, the historic courthouse serves as the polling place for voters who reside in a mail-ballot precinct. It will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Voters who live in non-mail-ballot precincts may drop off their voted absentee ballots until 3 p.m. on Election Day at the courthouse or vote in person at their polling location.

Visit to learn the location of the polling place based on where the voter lives, or call 218-824-1051 with any questions.

Notes for in-person voting

For those voters who choose to vote in person between now and Election Day, Erickson asked they be prepared for changes, including potentially longer wait times than usual. Because of social distancing requirements and building capacity limitations, there may be long lines for in-person voting. Erickson noted Mondays and Fridays tend to be the busiest days for in-person voting.

For those who wish to drop off their voted absentee or mail ballots in person, Erickson recommended they utilize the drive-thru option rather than waiting in line at the courthouse.

The other major change at the polls this year is the requirement of face masks. Voters must wear masks when entering any polling location. If voters cannot or choose not to wear masks, an election judge can assist them with voting curbside instead.

Election judges

Because of the volume of ballots coming in, likely driven by the coronavirus pandemic and a desire to avoid the potential crowds or waiting in line on Election Day, Nov. 3, Crow Wing County election judges are reviewing those absentee and mail ballots every day. They review ballots to make sure they meet criteria to be accepted or rejected, and update the system to show the ballots are accepted.

Election judges work in pairs with each representing a different major political party.

Ballots are then stored by precinct in a locked vault that only election administrators have access to and two people are required anytime an official would need to enter the vault. They will stay locked in the vault until 14 days before Election Day when the law will allow officials to scan the ballots into the ballot reading machines. No results can be tabulated until after 8 p.m. on Election Day.


In the past, election judges had to wait until 8 p.m. on Election Day before they could start processing absentee ballots at the polling places. Prior to this year, the law allowed the ballots to be processed seven days before Election Day. This year, special legislation allowed the processing of ballots 14 days prior to Election Day.

Erickson said there is nothing on the ballot envelopes to indicate any party affiliation, just an NR for non-registered voter or R for registered voter on the labels attached to the signature envelope. Nothing in the voter registration system indicates a voter’s party preference and there is no identifying information on the ballots themselves.

Once the tan secrecy envelopes with the ballots are removed from their outer white envelope the actual ballots are shuffled together to make sure they are not connected to or tied to any individual.

Minnesota does not have poll watchers on Election Day, but does have challengers of one person appointed by a major political party per polling place. The challengers may challenge the eligibility of a voter to vote in that polling place based on personal knowledge of that individual. The challengers became more of a presence at the polls after the contentious 2008 election for the Minnesota senate seat between Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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