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Answer Man: Ballots in the mail? Changes for voters in Mower County

August 27, 2018

I recently received a long and somewhat involved email from a faithful reader who had an important question for me: Why did some voters in cities and townships in Mower County receive ballots in the mail this year instead of visiting a polling place as they had during the last election?

The reader, who told me he lived in Grand Meadow Township in Mower County, said both he and his wife received what he referred to as absentee ballots in the mail. He said he didn’t realize until Aug. 13, when he called the county auditor’s office and learned the township had recently switched to mail-in voting, that those ballots were his only way of voting in the primary.

This township voter added that he took his voting rights very seriously, so he made the drive to the county office in Austin to drop off their ballots on Aug. 14, but asked that I dig into the subject to make sure no other voters were disenfranchised in the November election because of similar confusion.

I am, of course, more than happy to oblige, so I placed a call right away to Amanda Keifer, deputy auditor/treasurer for Mower County and an election expert, to find out more.

She told me that Grand Meadow Township is just one of 13 cities and townships in the county which are now using mail-in voting for all elections, an option available to all voting precincts with fewer than 400 registered voters.

Three of those (the cities of Sargeant, Taopi and Mapleview) had been using mail ballots prior to this year’s election, but another 10 cities and townships made the switch earlier this year. Those recent converts are the cities of Elkton and Rose Creek as well as Clayton, Grand Meadow, Marshall, Nevada, Pleasant Valley, Sargeant, Waltham and Windom townships.

The change, she says, was made to ease the financial burden elections can have on small cities and townships, since it costs money to pay election judges, rent a polling facility and train staff to use the voting machines. Keifer said she spoke to qualifying city and township boards about the option to pass a resolution to use mail ballots and reports that the precincts that made the change saved anywhere from $300 to $1,500 in the August primary.

She added that efforts were made to inform voters in those precincts of the change weeks in advance. Keifer says the cities or townships should have posted notices on official community boards, and the county also mailed a letter in the first week of June to all registered voters in those precincts explaining the change and how the mail voting process works. The ballots themselves arrived around June 29, giving voters 46 days before the primary to get their vote in.

Although some voters, including the reader who brought this to my attention, were unaware of the change until it was almost too late, Keifer says those precincts still saw increased voter turnout for the primary compared to previous years.

Sounds to me like receiving a ballot in the mail serves as a great reminder to get your vote in. That can only be a good thing.

Of course, no change is ever universally welcomed. Keifer says she’s heard from a few residents who expressed distrust of the mail or the loss of a longtime polling place as concerns about the change.

But to those voters, I say, “Never fear!” because the change isn’t permanent and can be reversed through another resolution. If using mail ballots is a serious concern for you, I recommend you express your concerns to your city or township board at their next meeting.

If you live in a city or township in Mower County that is using mail ballots for the general election on Nov. 9 and you missed it for the primaries, here’s what to expect.

According to Keifer, you should receive your ballot in the mail 46 days before the election, on Sept. 24. The envelope should also include complete instructions on how to fill out and return the ballot to your county office before 8 p.m. on Election Day so your votes can be counted.

And if you miss the registration deadline or have an address or name change that needs to be corrected, instead of visiting your polling place as you would have previously, visit or call the Mower County office. For all intents and purposes, the county office will technically be your polling place in the future.

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