WALKER-Many a Cass County voter thought their mailed ballot was junk mail and threw it in the garbage.
They thought they did not get a ballot, so ended up at the courthouse in Walker election night to vote in person. This was one factor leading to Cass County being one of the last to report election results to the state in 2016.
Sharon Anderson, the county's newly appointed elections administrator, told the county board Tuesday she will begin public education outreach this year to prevent a repeat.
She plans to use television, direct mail, radio, newspapers and social media to better inform voters about the mail ballot process. She also will talk to local government officials, offer a civics class segment in schools and offer to register 17-year-olds who will soon become eligible to vote.
Cass County began offering mailed ballots in 1994 to 28 smaller precincts where it was not cost effective to hire election judges to assist only a few voters to come to the town hall to vote. Now, about one-third of the county votes by mailed ballot. One precinct contains over 400 voters.
Mailed ballots work similarly to absentee ballots. With an absentee ballot, the individual voter requests a ballot be mailed to him or her. With mailed ballots, usually the town board or city council votes to have the entire township or city electorate (precinct) receive ballots by mail.
With absentee ballots, the ballot usually is mailed a short time after the individual requests it. With mailed-ballot precincts, the county usually mails ballots to the entire precinct about one month before the election.
Anderson said Tuesday the envelope can look like junk mail envelopes, so voters should open all mail they receive around Oct. 1 when there is a November election to be sure they don't throw away their ballot.
Voters also can track when the ballots are mailed and when a ballot is accepted or rejected through a link on the county website at www.co.cass.mn.us or through the Minnesota Secretary of State's office at www.sos.state.mn.us.
If a ballot is rejected, the county will mail a new ballot with an explanation of what must be added or changed to get the ballot accepted.
The process for voting is about the same as absentee ballots: fill out voting choices, follow directions that come with the ballot for signing it, having witnesses sign it and providing other pertinent data.
Anderson recommended returning completed ballots at least two weeks before the election to ensure there is enough time for the county to send a replacement ballot if there is any error on the first ballot sent.
The absentee ballot board checks incoming mail daily and records accepted ballots, so voters can check the above websites daily until they see their ballot has been accepted.
She said the system is very secure, tracking each ballot by the voter's name and address in a way that makes it very difficult to vote multiple times or for anyone to forge a ballot in a voter's name. If someone votes twice, only the ballot with the latest date will be counted, she added.
People can register to vote up to three weeks before an election. Those new voters in mailed ballot precincts will still be able to receive their ballot by mail in time to return it before the election, Anderson said.
If a person living in a mailed ballot precinct forgets to vote in time to mail their ballot back, they can still bring it until 8 p.m. Election Day to the courthouse in Walker and present it there.
Another factor in Cass's late vote tabulation during the 2016 election was the mixture of old voting tabulation equipment the county had. Now, the county is in the process of replacing that with new voting equipment.