Ballot processing underway in Nicollet County: How it works & what happens if your ballot is rejected

Voters are turning out early in record numbers for the 2020 election, and in Minnesota, election workers have already begun processing ballots.

Jaci Kopet, Public Services Manager in Nicollet County, says that nearly 60% of registered voters in the county have already requested absentee ballots, or live in a mail-in voting precinct.

Normally, Kopet says, Minnesota counties can begin processing ballots seven days prior to the election.  The statute was changed in 2020, Kopet said, to allow absentee ballot processing to begin 14 days in advance.  In Minnesota, that was Tues, Oct 20 at close of business.

Kopet says ballot processing is actually quite extensive.  “It’s not just opening a ballot and start shoving it through the machine,” she said.  “There’s many touchpoints and many verifications before it goes into that machine.”

Nicollet County elections staff are processing ballots every day, according to Kopet.  She said the goal is to be caught up by the end of Election Day.

Kopet said that during the 2018 mid-term election, absentee ballot requests were “kind of high,”  with 4,000 votes coming through her office.  She calls the request of 12,000 this year “triple off the charts.”

“In typical years, the majority of the ballots come through the poll place, and not through our office,” a shift Kopet says has required some preparation.  Her gut reaction, coupled with the early voting data, is that 40% of Nicollet County voters will still go to the polls on Election Day.  But, with a week to go, the number of early in-person voters gets higher and higher each day, says Kopet.

One benefit of voting early absentee is the voter’s ability to track their ballots.  In Minnesota, a ballot tracker is available on the Secretary of State’s website.  Voters will enter their name and the same identification information they used to request their ballots to find out whether their vote was processed, or if their ballot was rejected.

In some states, rejected ballots have brought chaos and confusion.  In Nicollet County, Kopet and her team have a personalized approach.  “We work with each individual voter to figure out how to get them their ballot if their ballot wasn’t received,” said Kopet.  “We do have options for them to reject that ballot, spoil that ballot, get them out another ballot.”

Within five days of the election, Kopet said Nicollet County stops mailing letters for rejected ballots and begins contacting each voter directly, daily.  Her office wants to make sure every vote is counted, even if means extra efforts from her staff.

“With these large amounts of numbers and the staff that we have, that’s going to be a big job, but we’re going to get that done, and that’s what we do here.”


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