Itasca County Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker provided county commissioners with an election update including information about election issues, absentee and mail-in ballot processes, voter registration, and current voter statistics during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 13
“We’ve come a long way in elections since I started this job,” said Walker.
Walker discussed some of the changes that have happened within the election system, such as electronic poll pads and no-excuse early voting. To date, there have been about 15,000 mail-in or absentee ballots sent out in Itasca County, according to Walker. Furthermore, 4,000 early ballots have been received. Mail-in ballots are just starting to be received. Walker stated that 50% of the votes could be cast before election day.
Issues that have come up this year regarding the election were discussed next.
“If you’ve been around elections long enough, you realize that every election has issues,” Walker commented.
Many people have called to say that their mail-in ballot was delivered late. Mail-in ballots were mailed out Oct. 5 and 6 in Itasca County.
“This is about one week later than we did last time, but it is well within the statutory deadline of Oct. 20 for having mail-in ballots sent out,” said Walker.
There have been several voters who have received duplicate ballots. There are two reasons for this. One, the State Voter Registration system allowed identical labels to be printed, and then two ballots were mailed to the voter. However, this does not mean they will get to vote twice. Once the first ballot is counted, if a second one is sent in, it will invalid and not counted. The other reason is that there were ballots sitting at the Post Office from the primary. The post office then sent them out to the voter along with their regular election ballot. These are two different ballots and the primary one will not count now.
Another issue that came up was regarding the Independent School District (ISD) 316 school board election. At the time the ballots were submitted to be printed, there were no candidate filings for the three openings on the ISD 316 school board. Four candidates began their own write-in campaigns shortly after. Itasca County did submit the change to their vendor who prints the ballots, but there was not enough time. The ballot now says to write-in one candidate, rather than write-in three candidates.
“However we don’t have time to reprint the ballot, reprogram the ballot, recall or spoil all the 2,500 ballots that have been voted, and reissue the ballots,” Walker stated. “We just don’t have the time to do that before election day.”
If there is a challenge to the election of ISD 316 school board openings, there will be a special election held and the vendor will pay a significant amount of the cost, according to Walker. The ISD 316 school district will not have to pay for the special election.
There was also an issue with the Greenway township election as it was supposed to be on the Calumet and Marble ballots. There were no filings for the position, but if there is a challenge there will be a special election held. Lastly, some residents have seen the letter “R” on their ballot and mistakenly thought it stood for “Republican.” This “R” stands for “register” and indicates on your ballot whether or not you are a registered voter.
“I just want to assure the public that we as Minnesotans enjoy one of the best election systems in the United States,” Walked stated. “And I know that because I’ve been through several recalls where we’ve had attorneys from the state of Washington, the state of Ohio, representing both parties. And in all these manual recounts that I’ve been through, the attorneys always express kind of an ‘awe’ of Minnesota’s election system.”
Walker continued, “We also enjoy one of the best election systems in the world. The United States enjoys the most comprehensive election system in the world. There are no election systems in the world that can match ours. Which means Minnesota is the best of the best.”
Public Health Division Manager Kelly Chandler provided a situational and informational update regarding COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in Itasca County for commissioners. If you have questions or concerns regarding COVID-19, please call the Public Health Hotline at (218) 327-6784, visit www.stableembrace.com, or contact First Call for Help/211 at (218) 326-8565.
In other business, commissioners took the following actions on the following items:
• Approved the minutes of the Tuesday, October 6, 2020 County Board Work session.
• Approved Commissioner Warrants in the amount of $1,322,290.41 with a check date of October 16, 2020.
• Authorized the posting and hiring of one vacant Park Maintenance Worker position in the Land Department.
• Approved a service contract with Northern Air Plumbing and Heating of Grand Rapids, Inc. for installation of automatic faucets and automatic flush valves in fairgrounds restrooms at the amount of $26,145.42 and authorized signatures.
• Authorized up to $85,000 of CARES dollars to be used primarily for students first and spread out fairly to all school districts within Itasca County.
• It was the consensus of the County Board to appoint Commissioner Snyder to serve with the Grand Village Board Chair, Commissioner Trunt, on the Hiring Committee for Grand Village Executive Director.
• Commissioners discussed a hiring and major purchase freeze. The board agreed to extend the process whereby departments request County Board approval for filling of budgeted positions for another 180-days.
• Authorized sending a letter of support from the County Board to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) regarding the Prairie River Minerals requested air permit.