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New absentee options available for 2014 elections

The Aug. 12 primary election is still more than a month away, but Goodhue County voters can get a head start with recent changes to the state’s absentee ballot process.

Residents across Minnesota can now request absentee ballots online through the Secretary of State website and no longer need to provide an excuse to vote before Election Day.

Previously, someone registering to vote absentee through the mail or at a local government office would have to give a reason, Goodhue County election official Amy Hove said. Common responses included planned absences from the precinct, illnesses and disabilities preventing voters from getting to the polls.

“This just takes all that out of there,” Hove said about the new absentee rules. “It’s a big benefit because I think some people felt like, well, should I or shouldn’t I? Now they don’t have to worry.”

She added that being able to request a ballot online also should make the process more convenient for voters and election officials.

When voters submit absentee requests by mail or fax, writing on the forms can be hard to read, Hove said of past election experiences. Online registration sends that information digitally, making verification and processing quicker and easier.

“Providing online services that are efficient and convenient for voters leads to greater voter participation, helping to ensure every eligible voice can be heard in our elections,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said in a news release.

In 2010, the last non-presidential election, about 6 percent of votes cast statewide were done absentee, according to the Secretary of State Office.

There were roughly 2,500 absentee ballots processed during the last election in Goodhue County, Finance Director Carolyn Holmsten said. But it is unclear what kind of impact the new rules will have on participation in next month’s primary, which typically see low voter turnout.

When requesting an absentee ballot online, voter information is verified with the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services division or the Social Security Administration. Local election officials then review each application and mail out ballots.

Once an absentee ballot is requested, voters can track its status on the Secretary of State website from the initial mailing to when it is accepted at the local election office.

Online and no-excuse absentee voting still means a lot of behind-the-scenes work for election officials, but Hove said ultimately the changes are a good thing.

“It is great for the voters,” she said. “We like anything that can make the voting process easier and better.”

The 2014 general election is Nov. 4. Up for grabs in Minnesota are a U.S. Senate seat, all eight U.S. House seats, governor’s office and multiple county and city positions.

Voter registration and absentee ballot instructions are available at

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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