Residents concerned over absentee ballot applications in mailboxes
Wadena resident Maynard Krause likes to vote at the polls and found a recent absentee voter application in his mailbox to be concerning. The letter looked legitimate but he felt it was fraud.
The application, one of thousands sent to voters across the country from Center For Voter Information (CVI) encourages voters to apply for the absentee ballot. The applications are even partially filled out with your information, obtained from “publicly available voter files,” the letter states.
The Voter Participation Center and its partner organization, CVI, run the nation’s largest mail-based voter registration and turnout programs, working to help members of the Rising American Electorate (RAE) — young people, unmarried women and people of color — register and vote, according to the CVI website.
Those that fill out the application can then mail it using a prepaid self-addressed envelope, which finds its way to the Wadena County Auditor's Office and into the hands of Wadena County elections coordinator Joy Weyer. Weyer received calls from a couple concerned citizens Thursday, June 11, and had a stack of about 40 of the applications to go through before sending out absentee ballots.
The applications are not actually fraud. They are the same that you would find on your county website. Those that apply will receive a real absentee ballot from their actual county to cast their totally legitimate vote for the upcoming election. The applications also give users the option to apply for the absentee ballot online at mnvotes.org, which directs users directly to the Minnesota Secretary of States election page. What is concerning some is that this letter is not coming from the county, but a third party. It’s essentially doing the job of getting you an application so you don’t have to search for one, with the hope that this gets people to vote that might not otherwise.
In Krause’s case, the letter from CVI states that they are a non-governmental, nonprofit, non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization.
While this is one way to cast a ballot, another concerning thing about this approach is that people are confused that this means they have to vote by mail, or that the polls will not be open, Weyer said. Weyer confirmed that the polls will be open in Wadena County. She adds that if anyone has a concern about coming to vote on election day, they can vote absentee without any excuse or they can take part in early voting, which starts 46 days before election day on Nov. 3.
People have been sending in two different types of these applications from two different groups, according to Weyer, but the one group does not have any name attached. The letters from CVI do not expressly state that people have to vote absentee. It does encourage it and says “The Minnesota Secretary of State and county election officials encourage EVERYONE to use mail ballots in the upcoming elections.”
Absentee ballots require some extra work for election officials like Weyer, so to say that it is encouraged over voting at the polls, is not entirely accurate. At the same time, voting at the polls requires a large polling staff, many of which are potentially of higher risk for complications if they get the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some communities are struggling to find staff for their polling places.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has encouraged eligible voters to vote by absentee ballot and on Thursday, shared a release that so far 70,617 Minnesotans have requested ballots. He is also encouraging people to work at the polls saying that with precautions in place, these are safe places to be. A news release from Simon said that polling issues seen in states like Georgia, where people were caught in long lines, was the result of a lack of poll workers.
Weyer knows that some people only want to vote at the polls and others can’t or won’t. While there is often concern from one party or another about voter fraud, Wadena County did not have instances of voter fraud from any method in 2018 that Weyer knows of. She doesn’t suspect it in 2020 either. She understands the concern that there is a potential for voter fraud. She believes the potential is less so with voting at the polls, where election judges witness people voting and signing their names. Potentially, those voting absentee can fill out an application for someone else and fraudulently sign their name. The fraud might not be uncovered unless the actual registered voter shows up to vote. If fraud is discovered, it's punishable by 5 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
While some may be concerned about this method of getting people to vote absentee, others seem to be embracing it as Weyer is seeing many more absentee ballot applications coming in than in other elections. It could be fears over COVID-19 or it could be that people are just eager to cast their votes sooner rather than later.
Unsure of what to do about voting?
If you receive a mailing that looks fraudulent, better to be safe by checking with your local election officials in your county.
If you wish to vote absentee and have not already applied, the county has applications you can get online or in person.
If you have already submitted a request for an absentee ballot for the August primary and November general elections there is no need to submit another request.
If you do not wish to vote absentee, you can simply ignore this type of letter. There is also an option on the CVI letter to unsubscribe from the mailing list by email.
If you have already applied for an absentee ballot you can check your status at https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/AbsenteeBallotStatus.aspx .
If you don’t care to vote anyway but at the poll, you can still do that by visiting your local polling place on Nov. 3. Check ahead to determine hours of operation and any added social distancing measures that may be planned.