University of Minnesota Alumni Association


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.

Illustration Credit: Alison Hawkins

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, 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 COVID-19 crisis.)

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

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 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 at the same time we request an absentee ballot. A written request for registration can also be submitted.

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.

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