A steep increase in absentee voting has raised concerns across the nation about when election results will be announced. In Minnesota, however, the Secretary of State’s office has taken steps to prevent significant delays in reporting results, even to the point of getting results earlier than before.
“We have been suggesting to Minnesotans that they take a good, hard look at voting from home, by mail (in order to decrease the chances of spreading COVID-19),” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a video conference call with reporters from across the state. “The Minnesota Legislature authorized us to use funds for that purpose, knowing — and I think wisely predicting as it turns out — that people would flock to this particular option of voting.”
According to Simon, as of Oct. 9 more than 1.3 million Minnesotans have requested an absentee ballot, and “that shatters all records by multiples,” he said.
Predicting this would happen, Simon said the state also took measures for counting those ballots. The biggest decision, according to Simon, was that the state is allowing counties to begin counting all those ballots a week earlier than normal. Previously, absentee ballots could be counted starting one week prior to election day. This year, however, ballots could be counted two weeks prior, which means ballots were starting to be counted as early as Tuesday, Oct. 20.
“That means all that mail, up to 1.3 million (ballots), they (county and city officials) can start digging into that,” Simon said. “There are some states in this country, big states, swing states, where they can’t start digging into that mountain of mail until election day itself. From an administrative standpoint, that puts Minnesota in a real position of advantage.”
The other action was to extend the deadline for election officials to accept absentee ballots to one week after the general election date, assuming the ballots are postmarked no later than election day (Nov. 3). What this will mean is that there is a chance that 100% of the winners of the election won’t be known as quickly as before.
“Election night is going to look and feel different from what Minnesotans and the rest of the country are used to,” Simon said. “There will be, in a sense, no instant gratification, or less instant gratification on election night than we’re used to.”
Simon pointed out that interested voters are used to winners being “called” on election night, or, at the latest, early the next morning. While that might not happen as much this year, Simon said the state has come up with a system that will still enable news outlets to announce as many winners as possible, minus only the closest races.
“This is literally by design,” Simon said. “It’s not evidence that anyone is hiding or concealing or rigging or stealing. It’s evidence of the actual plan.
“But just because we won’t have all the final ballots coming in that can be counted for a week doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to be standing around wondering who won and lost,” he added.
Simon explained on the day before election day (Nov. 2), his offices will have an end-of-the-day total of all absentee ballots requested, plus all absentee ballots accepted up to that point. This will allow people to know how many absentee ballots are still unreceived simply by subtracting the number of absentee ballots requested by the number of absentee ballots counted.
On election day, all absentee, early in-person, and election day in-person ballots will be combined whenever precincts report their results.
“This is nothing new,” Simon said. “They have, for decades and decades, co-mingled.”
In order for winners to be announced without fear of providing incorrect information, newspapers will be able to look at the results, as well as the number of absentee ballots still outstanding. For example, if candidate “A” is 101 votes ahead of his closest opponent and there are only 100 absentee ballots outstanding, then candidate “A” can be declared the winner. The only change that can occur by Nov. 10 is the margin of victory.
Obviously, if a candidate is fewer votes ahead than the number of absentee ballots remaining, that candidate will not be declared the winner. However, Simon said his office is encouraging all counties to provide daily updated results from Wednesday, Nov. 4 through Tuesday, Nov. 10.