The 2020 General Election is just around the corner, and Sibley County is already reporting a record number of early ballots as 31 percent of registered voters have already mailed their ballots.
Sibley County has had a long tradition of high voter turnout that far exceeds the state average.
During the 2018 General Election, Minnesota reported 64.25 percent voter turnout. In Sibley County, 8,769 residents cast a ballot, or 75.6 percent of registered voters. During the 2016 General Election, Sibley County had 8,522 votes, representing a whopping 92 percent turnout rate. The state saw a 74.72 percent voter turnout.
As of Friday afternoon, Oct. 23, Sibley County Auditor-Treasurer Marilee Peterson reported that 2,880 absentee/mail ballot votes had been received, out of 9,290 registered voters.
While Sibley County has long enjoyed high voter turnout, it typically was not via absentee voting. In 2018, the county had 721 absentee ballots for the general election, and in 2016, when the county had 92 percent voter turnout, just 669 ballots, or 7.8 percent, were absentee.
Of course, COVID-19 is the primary reason for the change in voting practices, although it is not totally responsible.
According to Peterson, Arlington, Cornish, Henderson, Kelso, New Auburn, Severance, Sibley and Washington Lake townships, along with the city of Green Isle, all decided to do mail-in ballots prior to the Presidential Nomination Primary.
Municipalities had until May 13 to decide whether or not to do mail-in ballots for the General Election, and Peterson said that the city of New Auburn, along with Alfsborg, Bismarck, Faxon, Grafton, Green Isle, Jessenland, Moltke, and New Auburn townships all made the decision to do mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 concerns.
Just because a township or city has mail-in balloting does not mean residents cannot put their ballot in the election machine, but it does require a drive and some time.
Sibley County will be offering direct balloting in Gaylord from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Security in the
Time of COVID
Between COVID-19 measures and concerns about election security, Peterson said the election staff have been under a lot of stress lately. Peterson reports that a number of residents have questioned the integrity of the election and want to know what the county is doing to ensure voter fraud does not occur.
“I love that we have high voter turnout, and as much as they are questioning the process, the silver lining is that people are engaged and care and want to make sure their vote counts,” Peterson said.
County staff have a very detailed procedure in place to ensure each vote is counted. Starting at 11 a.m., the county has two staff members collect all of the ballots received the previous day. Upon opening the ballot, they check the signature envelope to ensure the voter has signed. Failure to sign the signature ballot will result in the ballot being rejected. As of last Friday, Oct. 23, 32 of the 2,880 ballots the county received had been rejected, most due to lack of voter signature, Peterson said.
In the event a ballot is rejected, the county does not simply throw it in the trash. Peterson said they will make every effort to contact the person to let them know the ballot was rejected so they can come down and correct the issue.
“We try whatever we can do to reach out to them so they have every opportunity to make sure their vote counts,” Peterson said.
Assuming the ballot has been filled out correctly and signed, the county will then compare the signature envelope to the statewide voter system. If a voter has not submitted a ballot, theirs gets counted. If the system says the person has already submitted a ballot, the second one gets rejected.
Once the signature and voter have been verified, the ballot is sorted by precinct and locked in a filing cabinet in the Sibley County Courthouse, and there it will remain until the county begins counting ballots on Oct. 27.
Starting Tuesday, Oct. 27, each precinct’s ballots will begin being counted, run through the election machine, and locked up. Come 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, the county will turn the key on the election machine to print the results, although they won’t be final.
Unlike previous years, the election winners will not be known for another week. Absentee ballots can be mailed up until Nov. 3 and must be received no later than Nov. 10 to be counted.
Peterson said Sibley County staff will be accepting ballots and updating results every single day between Nov. 4-10, but races like the Sibley County Board of Commissioners won’t be able to be called until the final day.
“There are so few votes compared to the national Presidential race that there is no way to call it until the 10th,” Peterson said.