Safe Voting During COVID-19
Even during a pandemic, voting remains critical to our democracy. Here are some ways to do it more safely this fall.
Key Dates for Voting:
Sept. 18: Absentee ballots begin mailing
Sept. 18: Early in-person voting begins and runs to Nov. 2
Oct. 2: Apply for an absentee ballot before this date and mail it in as soon as possible. Late votes will not be counted.
Over the years, I estimate I have
been to the polls in Minnesota
nearly 100 times, and not just
because it’s a duty of citizenship. I enjoy the ritual of joining with other
Minnesotans to select our leaders. But this
fall, considering that COVID-19 is still at large
and considering my age, I’m concerned.
However, Minnesota leads the nation in
voter turnout, and I won’t be taking away
from that achievement this year. I still intend
to vote, and I want everyone else to, too.
There are several ways you can vote this year
and still feel safe.
The safest form of voting this fall will be
by using an absentee ballot that is mailed to
voters and that in turn, we return by mail.
If you want to do this, there are a few
steps you must take first: In Minnesota,
receiving an absentee ballot doesn’t happen
automatically as it does in some other states.
To receive one, you’ll need to obtain an application for a ballot at mnvotes.org, a site run
by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.
Fill your application out carefully and return
it to your local city or county elections office.
(The information for doing so is provided.)
Secretary of State Steve Simon recently
announced that a registered voter witness
will not be required for the general election
absentee ballot. However, it is suggested
that a witness be used, if convenient, due to
the possibility of a legal challenge prior to
the election. (The witness requirement was
waived for the primary election due to the
Absentee ballots will be mailed out starting September 18. You should apply for an
absentee ballot by October 2 for the general
election on November 3 to allow enough time for the ballot to be mailed and returned. Don’t wait
too long to do this, especially given the challenges
the Post Office says could occur with delivery of
mail. If your ballot is received after Election Day, it
will not be counted. The status of your absentee
ballot can be tracked online at mnvotes.org.
If you don’t wish to use an absentee ballot, the
next safest alternative this year will be to vote early
in person at your local election office. This is safer
than voting on Election Day because fewer voters
will be present, and masks and social distancing
will be possible. Early voting will begin September
18 and continues through November 2. (Note that a
portion of the federal CARES Act funding will be
used to ensure sanitary conditions at the offices for
early voting and at the polls for the general election.)
If neither of these options works for you, you will
need to vote in person on Election Day. Observers
say we can expect fewer polling places this year
due a lack of poll workers, who have traditionally
been older and who may choose not to work to
safeguard their own health. (Younger citizens are
being encouraged to apply to take their places.)
Some election funding may even be used to staff
polling places. You can expect the polling places to
observe the usual COVID-19 precautions like masks
and social distancing and cleaning of surfaces.
Another important concern this year is maintaining and increasing voter registrations, which have
decreased during the pandemic. In a normal presidential election year, registrations increase, especially
in the summer. But this year, the usual in-person
voter registration drives, registration at drivers’
license offices, and in-person efforts by the League
of Women Voters have been missing, although the
League’s site Vote411.org is a virtual effort to improve
registrations and provide voting information.
Fortunately, all of us can register online and
update our registration in Minnesota at votemn.org at the same time we request an absentee
ballot. A written request for registration can also
Young and new voters, in particular, must be
encouraged to make sure they are registered and
ready to vote. College students can register at
their college address. (And University of Minnesota
students led the nation in 2018 in voter turnout!)
The University is encouraging students to vote by
providing online voter registration at the same time
students register for classes. This year, the registration deadline for the November 3 general election
is October 13. Seventeen-year-olds can register this
year if they will be 18 when the election arrives. In
Minnesota, we can also register at the polls with
proof of residence.
This fall we are facing one of the most consequential elections in my (very long) memory. We
need our full electorate to participate and we need
to do the extra work that will be required in 2020
to make that happen. But I’m optimistic that the
draw of a presidential election as well as issues
like COVID-19 and police reform will motivate a
large number of voters. After all, as Ralph Waldo
Emerson observed, “This time, like all times, is a
very good one if you but know what to do with it.”
We know what we must do.
George Beck (J.D. ’70) is a retired administrative law judge and current chair of Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections.