A guide to early voting and voting by mail in Minnesota

Early Voting sign in Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Brad Lewis, Elections Support Specialist, waits outside the Northeast Early Vote Center to greet voters on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Election Day is still six weeks away, but Minnesotans can start casting their ballots Friday.

Friday is the first day of early voting, and the day the state will begin to mail out absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election. Many voters are expected to opt for early voting, either in person or by mail, to avoid Election Day polling places and the spread of COVID-19.

Here’s a rundown of Minnesotans’ three voting options: Voting early in person, voting early by mail and voting in person on Election Day. 

Voting early in person

How does early voting work?

Any voter can cast a ballot at their county election office before Election Day, beginning Friday. Many counties offer additional early voting locations, and some cities and towns also offer early voting. Days and times vary by location — find your county election office here.

Voting early by mail

How does voting by mail work?

Any Minnesota voter can vote by mail. Apply online for a ballot (also known as an absentee ballot) from the secretary of state. The state will start sending ballots to voters on Friday. Fill out the ballot and mail it back, or drop it off on Election Day at the office that mailed you the ballot (not at your polling place).

Mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day (Nov. 3) and received by election officials within seven days of the election (Nov. 10). You can track your ballot online to find out if it’s been received and counted.

You can still vote by mail if you’re not registered — you just need a witness to sign the envelope. If you are a registered voter, you don’t need a witness signature this year.

What if I mess up my ballot?

If your ballot is rejected because you made a mistake — like filling it out incorrectly, or forgetting a witness signature if you’re not a registered voter — election officials will contact you so you can fix it, as required by Minnesota law.

Can I vote in person if I’ve already mailed in a ballot?

If you’ve already mailed in your absentee ballot, you can still vote in person early or on Election Day — as long as your absentee ballot hasn’t been counted yet. If you vote in person on Election Day, your absentee ballot will become invalid, so election officials won’t count it. You can check the status of your absentee ballot here.

If you want to change your vote, you can cancel your ballot up to two weeks until Election Day. Contact the election office that sent your ballot to ask about canceling it.

Will my mailed-in ballot be received in time?

If you request a ballot early and send it in as soon as possible, your vote should be counted in time. The United States Postal Service says it will be able to handle a surge in mail before the election, despite concerns over mail slowdowns this summer. In 2018, 95% of election mail arrived in one to three days, The New York Times reported.

But Minnesota doesn’t allow enough time for last-minute voting by mail, so requesting and sending your ballot with time to spare is important. You can request a ballot up until the day before the election in Minnesota, but it likely won’t show up on time for it to be counted, so better to not procrastinate. 

Voting on Election Day

How does in-person voting work this year?

Voting in person on Election Day won’t be much different than any other year, except that masks are required, and election officials will sanitize pens and encourage social distancing.

Most polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (find your polling place here). You can register at the polling place if you bring a proof of residence, like an ID with your current name and address. Find the list of approved documents here.

Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.