On the homestretch: When, how and where to vote in Crow Wing County

The votes of 44% of registered voters in Crow Wing County had already been counted as of the end of the day Thursday, Erickson reported, amounting to just under 20,000 ballots.

Crow Wing County employee Tracy Giza (left) prepares to check an application for an absentee ballot from Robyn Schmidt while her husband Andrew waits in line Thursday, Oct. 29, on the first floor of the Historic Crow Wing County Courthouse. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

There remain numerous options to vote before or on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, but dropping a ballot in the mailbox is not one of them.

Deborah Erickson, Crow Wing County elections head, warned against voting by mail this close to the day, instructing voters to instead drop off their completed ballots or fill out a ballot at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse. Those who live in precincts with in-person voting this year may also vote via direct balloting at their local polling place on Election Day.

This is particularly important given a Thursday night decision by a federal judicial panel requiring the state to put ballots that come in after Election Day in a separate category. The decision doesn’t prohibit the state from accepting the absentee ballots after 8 p.m. Tuesday, but it could impact which votes get counted in the presidential election. Additional lawsuits could decide whether late ballots get treated differently than those submitted before the deadline.

RELATED: Minnesota officials say submit absentee ballots in-person; polling locations open Saturday


Voters wait at the elections and voting counter on the second floor of the historic Crow Wing County Courthouse Thursday, Oct. 29, in Brainerd. The first and second floors of the courthouse have been busy with voters requesting absentee ballots and voting. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Here’s how to vote:

  • Saturday, Oct. 31: The historic courthouse, 326 Laurel St., Brainerd, is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. to either drop off a ballot or complete one in person to place in a tabulating machine.

  • Monday, Nov. 2: The historic courthouse is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. to either drop off a ballot or complete one in person to place in a tabulating machine. Voters may also use the drive-thru option to drop off completed ballots, located in the parking lot across Laurel Street from the historic courthouse.

  • Tuesday, Nov. 3: The historic courthouse, along with polling places throughout the county, will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Those who live in mail ballot precincts may drop off their ballots or complete them in person at the historic courthouse through 8 p.m. Those who opted to receive an absentee ballot must drop off those ballots by 3 p.m. on Election Day at the historic courthouse. After 3 p.m., those voters must vote in person instead.

Some polling places have changed in 2020 because of social distancing needs and other considerations involving the coronavirus pandemic, while other precincts that typically allow in-person voting are voting by mail only this year. Visit to enter a home address and learn the polling place location for a given precinct.

For those who’ve already mailed their ballots, visit to learn whether the ballot has been received or accepted by election officials. Erickson said if it’s been more than two days since the ballot was dropped in the mail, it’s likely been received by the office. She encouraged voters to check the tracker first, or if not possible, call the Crow Wing County elections office at 218-824-1051. If the tracker states a ballot cannot be found or is in the wrong status, Erickson said voters should call the office to check on their ballot. If voters are concerned their ballot is lost or will not arrive on time, Erickson said they may vote in person and the absentee ballot would be spoiled and not counted if or when it arrives.

Voter Rose Puckett listens to Crow Wing County employee Tracy Giza explain what needs to be completed for an absentee ballot Thursday, Oct. 29, at the historic courthouse. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

RELATED: Late Minnesota absentee ballots must be separated, federal judges order


Voters should bring patience and pens

The votes of 44% of registered voters in Crow Wing County had already been counted as of the end of the day Thursday, Erickson reported, amounting to just under 20,000 ballots. This figure includes those who live in mail ballot precincts, absentee voters and those who’ve voted early in person at the historic courthouse counter.

This is nearly double the number of Crow Wing voters who voted early during the 2016 presidential election with four days left to go and a near-constant stream of more voters casting their ballots. During the seven-day period before Election Day, voters may fill out their ballots and feed them into a tabulator. As of Thursday, Erickson said 1,326 voters had taken advantage of that direct balloting option at the courthouse. The small elections staff has received a helping hand from staff members across all county departments, who are pitching in by passing out forms, wiping down clipboards, managing traffic flow and maintaining social distancing.

Charles Young casts his vote Thursday, Oct. 15, in downtown Brainerd. The drive-thru ballot drop began Oct. 14 and will be available 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 2. Election judges are staffed at the site in the county parking lot in front of the historic courthouse on Laurel Street. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

New this year is the drive-thru option, established in anticipation of a high early turnout. The staffed location has been a popular option for voters, and, Erickson emphasized, a secure one.

“The drive-thru drop-off spot was deliberately chosen where it’s located at. For one thing, it is right directly in front of our law enforcement facility. It does have cameras that are in view of it 100% of the time. It is staffed by election judges of differing political parties the whole time that it’s there. That’s why it’s only offered during certain hours — we don’t have an unstaffed, unmanned dropbox opportunity,” Erickson said. “The ballots that are received by the dropbox are brought immediately into the courthouse a few times a day. They are stamped with the received date that they are dropped off so that a voter who tracks the status of their ballot, within 24 hours, will see that it was received on that particular date. And they’re taken directly from the trailer into our locked vault facility until they are scanned.”

RELATED: 8 more Crow Wing County townships to vote by mail this year
As Election Day approaches, Erickson asked voters to be prepared to wait in line, maintain social distancing and wear masks. She said there will be occurrences at the polling places when no voters will be allowed entrance for a short time to allow for a deeper clean, including wiping down all touchpoints as much as possible. If possible, voters should bring their own pens or will receive a single-use pen at the polls to avoid a potential source of spread.


With applications for absentee ballots voters wait at the elections and voting counter before receiving their ballot Thursday, Oct. 29, on the second floor of the Historic Crow Wing County Courthouse. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Patience, patience, patience,” Erickson said. “Whether you’re coming to vote early before Election Day here at the courthouse, we are seeing extremely high voter turnout for early voting. We are trying to move voters through as quickly as possible but there is protocol and processes that have to go into that. … In all circumstances, have patience with the situation, with your fellow voters and with those that are there to assist you in the process.”

Erickson said preparation for this year’s Election Day was unlike any other year in light of the pandemic, and with the number of new confirmed positives for COVID-19 rising in the community, there is some concern about adequate staffing of election judges. The county has a list of backup judges if needed, however, and has provided those names to clerks to fill any empty positions that may occur.

“I think that’s probably … the biggest challenge that we’ve seen to date right now is just the timing of when our case counts are rising is causing a rush right now,” Erickson said.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .


Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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