Minnesota to send flyer to voters encouraging voting from home

Minnesota will begin sending letters to every registered voter that hasn't already requested an absentee ballot encouraging them to vote from home during the early voting window that starts Friday.

"Keep Minnesota #1 in voter participation and help slow the spread of COVID-19!" the letter from Secretary of State Steve Simon will say, according to a copy provided to reporters Thursday.

Simon and elections officials across the state are preparing for voters to shatter the previous record for early voting, which was 24 percent in 2018. Polls of Minnesota voters suggest that more than 40 percent of them plan to vote before the Nov. 3 election and avoid the polling place on Election Day.

Minnesota Republicans questioned the mailing.

"So the SOS is using taxpayer dollars to encourage the DFL’s fear mongering about voting in-person being dangerous? Will he also be sending letter telling people grocery shopping is dangerous?" tweeted Becky Alery, executive director for the Republican Party of Minnesota.

A spokesperson from the Secretary of State's office said it will cost $1.1 million for postage and printing.

In Minneapolis, elections officials are preparing for up to 70 percent of the city's voters to vote early. On Friday morning, the city will mail out 114,000 absentee ballots to voters who have already requested them.

"That’s phenomenal. There is no record that’s even close to that," said Grace Wachlarowicz, the city's elections director. "For the (Aug. 11) state primary, the first day was 24,000 and we thought that was a lot. We thought the 2018 general was a record-breaker with a measly 10,000."

The city is expecting so many absentee ballots that it will use the sprawling Minneapolis Convention Center to process them all. Within weeks, 200 workers will be taking in applications, stuffing ballots into envelopes, and processing returned ballots.

The extra space was necessary because of the high number of workers and the social distancing requirements. Wachlarowicz said the city is still recruiting workers to handle the glut of ballots.

"We have security there 24/7 to ensure that real or perceived, it is secure," Wachlarowicz said. "That is a priority of mine and it was discussed extensively, to make sure that all our voters had that confidence that there is no chance of funny business."

Despite the crush of mail voting, hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans are still likely to show up to the polls -- either early or on Election Day. Clerks across the state have installed plexiglass barriers and created queue lines to maintain social distancing.

Election officials got a trial run during the Aug. 11 primary without any major incidents statewide. The general election will have see far more voters and the increased pressure of a presidential race.

Voters have until Election Day to postmark their absentee ballot, but election officials are urging them to return it quickly. In Hennepin County, more 1,454 ballots were thrown out after the Aug. 11 primary, and almost all of them were postmarked the day after the election, officials there said.

Minneapolis will also have drop-off locations that Wachlarowicz said the city will announce as soon as next week.