Voters cast ballots earlier this year. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
This year has been so tough because too much seems outside of our control: An unstable economy and soaring unemployment, a rampant pandemic that’s only worsening, white supremacy proudly prowling the streets.
But one thing remains within our power: Our right to vote. This fundamental right is the most precious because, in the words of former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, “without it citizens lack the ability to protect all other rights, both enshrined in the constitutions and inherent.”
A single vote can seem meaningless in the ocean of ballots. But just a single vote can tip the scales. In 2017, for example, a legislative seat in Virginia was tied, and the state picked the winner’s name out of a hat. Furthermore, that seat determined control of the House of Delegates. One single vote could have changed everything.
You can believe it or not, but your one vote can change the fate of the world. And therefore you must take every effort to protect it. Thankfully, Minnesota’s laws are generally on your side, protecting voter access to the ballot. But you must remain vigilant, know your rights, and know what to do if they are threatened.
Know your rights
Not everyone knows that Minnesota has a Voters’ Bill of Rights. It has to be posted in every polling place, and you can find a summary on the Secretary of State’s website as well. They are all important, but here are a few highlights.
- If you are not registered to vote, you have the right to vote on Election Day if you can show proof of residency. Your proof can be a current state or tribal ID, a combination of documentation, or another registered voter in your precinct who will vouch for you. You can find a full list of options for proving your residency on the Secretary of State’s website.
- You have the right to assistance in reading or marking your ballot from any person of your choice, as long as they are not an agent of your employer or your union. This person does not have to be a registered voter or even eligible to vote. They do not have to be a citizen. They do not even have to be an adult. And if you do not have someone to assist you, you have the right to assistance from election judges at your polling place.
- You have the right to vote if you are in line to vote by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Even if you are still in the back of the line after 8 p.m., the polling place must remain open to let you vote as long as you arrived by 8 p.m.
- And finally, you have the right to vote free from interference and intimidation. Very few Minnesotans can enter a polling place, usually only election officials and people in the process of voting. Minnesota does allow one challenger per party in each polling place, but those challengers cannot speak to you without an election official present and can only challenge your vote if they have personal knowledge that you are not eligible. No one may campaign or loiter within 100 feet of the building where a polling place is located. Police officers cannot enter a polling place unless they are voting or are summoned by an election official.
Know your options
I want to be crystal clear: Our election system in Minnesota is secure, reliable, and trustworthy. Despite the baseless claims to the contrary, our votes are counted and recorded accurately without interference. And while many people have concerns about how the postal service delays might impact voting absentee by mail, the United States Postal Office is expediting election mail, which still totals only a fraction of the mail they handle during the holiday season.
But none of that means you have to be complacent. You should return your ballot as soon as you are able, to ensure it is received by election officials before the deadline. Ballots should be accepted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days, but that extended deadline is being challenged.
In other words, don’t procrastinate. Do it now if you haven’t already. You can put your ballot in the mail, or you can return it in person at a local election office. Some cities and counties even have drop boxes this year. Contact your local election office to find out where to drop off your ballot. If you drop it off at one of these special collection points in person, you must do so before 3 p.m. on Election Day. You cannot drop it at your local polling place on Election Day.
If you’ve put it in the mail or returned it in person, don’t forget you can track whether your ballot has been received and accepted at mnvotes.org/track.
Trust, but verify
Because of the extended deadlines in Minnesota and in other states, counting ballots will take longer than it has in previous years. Often we can determine election results on election night, but this year, we’ll have an election week. Don’t trust candidates who declare themselves the winner. Wait for multiple trustworthy media organizations to report projected results, and even then, understand that those are not the official results.
Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security believes that foreign entities will try to cause confusion and chaos in the weeks following Election Day by spreading misinformation. Don’t fall for it. Do not spread information that has not been verified by multiple media organizations. Minimize your social media use. Check with trusted resources like your local election officials. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has established a website to help fight misinformation.
Know who to call
Voters’ first instinct is to call the secretary of state about every and any voting problem they encounter. That office may be able to assist with problems, but the secretary of state does not have enforcement powers. If you encounter any problems when voting — either early or on Election Day — do the following:
- Speak to the head election judge of the polling place. They are in charge of handling disputes and concerns. If they cannot solve your problem, ask to file a formal written complaint. Every polling place must have written complaint forms available for a voter under the law.
- Call your city or county election office. They often can intercede if a head election judge fails to handle an issue.
- Call the nonpartisan Election Protection Hotline (866-OUR-VOTE). An army of volunteer legal professionals can provide assistance to any voter, and take action if legal advocacy is necessary. They also track problems to find commonalities. Assistance is also available in several non-English languages:
1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)
1-888-API-VOTE (Asian multilingual assistance)
Be a helper
Voters can also help other voters. Registered voters can witness an absentee ballot if the voter needs a witness to verify their residency.
(Voters who still need to register when they cast their absentee by mail ballot will need a witness. The witness requirement has been waived for voters who are already registered, but if you’re registering and voting, you still need a witness.)
Registered voters can also vouch for your residency.
But maybe you’re not eligible to vote. That’s OK. Batman doesn’t have any superpowers, but he is still one of the most valuable members of the Justice League. Just because you don’t have the power to vote doesn’t mean you’re powerless.
Anyone, whether an eligible voter or not, can still contribute to a safe and fair election. You can assist voters at the polling place. You can give rides to polling places. You can return up to three voters’ ballots in person. You can translate and interpret voter education materials. You can share this article. You have many opportunities to make this election work for you.
If you feel like the weight of the world is upon you, remember, you’re not alone. For every obstacle between you and the ballot box, there’s twice as many opportunities for neighbors and friends to help you. And when you think of every right you hold dear, be sure to prioritize the one that protects all the others: Your right to vote.
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