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Martiga Lohn, Associated Press, Published August 10 2010

Minnesota voters get crack at absentee voting changes in primary today

ST. PAUL – Minnesota’s Tuesday primary will provide the first test of a new approach to handling absentee votes after the prolonged dispute over the U.S. Senate race eventually won by Democrat Al Franken.

Absentee ballots will now be counted separately by special panels of election officials on election night, potentially slowing down precinct-by-precinct results. The delays could range from 15 to 20 minutes in Hennepin County, the state’s most populous, to more than an hour in second-biggest Ramsey County. Some counties don’t anticipate slowdowns.

Election officials said the extra minutes are the trade-off for more consistent, accurate absentee counts.

The recount and ensuing court fight involving Franken and Republican Norm Coleman exposed what had been inconsistent treatment of absentee ballots. Until this year, election judges at the precinct level counted the absentees along with the rest of the votes cast in their precincts. Judges in one county could reject ballots that might have been counted in another.

A new state law enacted this year puts centralized absentee ballot boards in charge of counting those votes.

The changes should speed up the counting of regular ballots because election judges at the precinct level won’t have to touch absentee ballots. But before results can be reported to the Secretary of State or posted publicly, the absentee votes must be added to each precinct’s total.

That’s what could slow things down.

In Hennepin County, which has been testing a program that will do the addition, Elections Manager Rachel Smith said officials will double-check the data and the math before making the results public.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this,” Smith said. “We take it very seriously to report accurately.”

Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky said he expects the absentee processing to add as much as 90 minutes to the counting. Absentee voting in his county is up about 30 percent from the 2006 gubernatorial primary, with vacationing voters and the Democratic campaigns for governor likely responsible for much of the increase, he said.

Other election officials were more optimistic. In the Brainerd area, Crow Wing County Auditor Deborah Erickson said things might actually go faster.

“I’m anticipating the same or maybe a little quicker because the precincts don’t have to do the absentees,” she said.

The primary features a high-profile Democratic contest for governor, a five-way Independence Party gubernatorial race and intraparty face-offs in races for Congress, the Legislature and state constitutional offices.

Absentee voting is at the highest level in more than 20 years, with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office reporting nearly 29,000 absentee ballots had been accepted by late Monday afternoon. As of Monday morning, 919 had been rejected.

What you need to know to vote

Minnesota voters head to the polls today to cast ballots in the state’s primary election.

Appearing on Clay County voters’ ballots will be candidates for the state’s 7th Congressional District, governor and lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

Because it’s a primary election, voters can vote only for candidates in one political party.

Each voter must be registered in order to participate in the primary. Those that haven’t done so can register in person at the polls.

To register, you must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days prior to the election, among other criteria. You must also present a form of identification, such as:

  • A valid Minnesota driver’s license or government-issued ID.

  • A valid student ID with photo.

  • A Tribal ID card.

  • A valid voters’ registration.

  • An approved photo ID and a utility bill with your current name and address printed on it.

    For complete information, go to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.state.mn.us.

    Source: Minnesota Secretary of State