New Minnesota absentee ballot drop box rules in place for 2021 municipal elections

Minnesota will have new security measures in place for absentee ballot drop boxes in the 2021 municipal elections.

Cities and counties must have video surveillance on 24-hour drop boxes, the boxes need to be bolted to a building or immovable object, and workers must remove ballots at least once per business day.

Until now, Minnesota had virtually no requirements for the drop boxes. That raised questions during the 2020 general election, when a record 1.9 million Minnesotans voted absentee, though no fraud related to drop boxes has been reported to the Secretary of State's office.

"The system has worked. It’s just worked because of the creativity and ingenuity of local governments that were existing in sort of a wild west situation with few written standards in the law," Secretary of State Steve Simon said in an interview.

State lawmakers struck a last-minute budget deal in late June that included the drop box regulations. The legislation also has $2 million in grants for cities and counties to buy video recording systems and tamper-proof equipment.

The changes will not affect the closely watched Minneapolis municipal election in November because the city has no plans to use round-the-clock drop boxes, said Katie Lauer, the elections administration supervisor.

Instead, Minneapolis had 12 fully staffed drop-off locations for the 2020 general election and will have at least one such location open when early voting starts Sept. 17, she said.

"We opted for the safety and security of having our staff be there so they could also answer any questions that voters had or make sure that they saw their ballot go into the hands of an election official," Lauer said in an interview.

In Minneapolis, more than 42,000 people used the drop-off locations to vote last year, which is nearly 19 percent of the 238,000 votes cast in the 2020 general.

Election administrators across the state flooded the Secretary of State's office with questions about how to manage drop boxes in 2020 with absentee voting high during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrators used best practices developed in other states without statewide standards in Minnesota, Simon said.

"I do think these new standards will make drop boxes more secure and maybe more importantly they will increase our already high confidence in our election system," he said.