No rush yet as early voting starts
September 30, 2022
Earlier this week, Carlton County election officials mailed 600 absentee ballots to people who’d requested to vote in advance of the Nov. 8 midterm election.
It was a far cry from the 2020 general election, in which roughly half of the county’s voters (10,900) used early voting and mail-in options during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I feel like the 600 we just mailed out will be the bulk of them,” said Kevin DeVriendt, Carlton County auditor/treasurer.
Early voting began last week, 46 days prior to election day, and voters can vote at the Auditor’s Office during regular business hours at the courthouse. Still, DeVriendt told the Pine Knot he appreciated the return to normalcy.
“That was hugely abnormal,” he said of 2020. “Our office had lines out the door with early voters.”
During the primary election in August, the county featured 22,510 registered voters. Most appear ready to return to their polling locations to vote. That suits DeVriendt fine. When possible, he likes to encourage voters to vote on election day at their usual polling location.
“That’s where the people power is,” DeVriendt said. “It was a strain on our office in 2020, when we were bombarded by absentee voters. When people go to their in-person polling location, there are many election judges that are trained and helpful.”
Overall, the county features 38 precincts. The midterm will include 15 mail-ballot precincts, covering 2,350 ballots, down from 19 in 2020. Eagle, Lakeview, Mahtowa and Silver Brook townships have reopened their polling locations.
Mail-ballot precincts include the cities of Barnum, Cromwell, Kettle River, Wrenshall and Wright. Mail-ballot townships include Beseman, Clear Creek, Corona, Holyoke, Kalevala, Progress, Red Clover, Sawyer, Split Rock and Wrenshall.
The county also features polling locations in the cities of Cloquet (six), Carlton, Moose Lake, Scanlon, Wrenshall and Wright. Townships with polling locations include Atkinson, Automba, Barnum, Blackhoof, Eagle, Lakeview, Mahtowa, Moose Lake, Perch Lake, Silver, Silver Brook, Skelton, Thomson and Twin Lakes.
Mail-ballot voters will either need to return their ballots using the postal service, or by dropping ballots off at the courthouse in Carlton through election day. There are no ballot dropboxes in the county, so voters will need to arrive during business hours.
“We eliminated the dropbox because of all the complexities, including having to have 24-hour surveillance on the box,” DeVriendt said. “For 2020, a lot of rules were relaxed because of the pandemic, but those rules came back into place for 2022.”
The county used state and federal grants, in addition to pandemic recovery funding, to purchase all-new election equipment this season. The ballot scanners and tabulators come from Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Nebraska. The new machines were first employed during the low-turnout primary in August, when only 3,966 voters participated across the county.
“It went well,” DeVriendt said. “It was a good trial run for the new equipment.”
New assistive voting machines are also in place at polling locations. Anyone can use the devices, but the machines are aimed at assisting people with disabilities.
Minnesota also offers same-day voter registration. Still, DeVriendt encouraged prospective and new voters to do their best to register beforehand.
“The last day to pre-register is Oct. 18,” he said. “It makes the whole voting process way more seamless if newbies register by then.”
DeVriendt noted that residents can request registration and absentee materials by calling or visiting the office on the second floor of the Carlton County Courthouse, or using the Minnesota Secretary of State website at sos.state.mn.us.
“It’s the best resource and a really powerful site with a lot of good stuff going on there,” he said.
He added that voters can type in their address and view a sample ballot featuring all of the races for their particular precinct.
“They can see their exact ballot,” DeVriendt said.
When early voting started last week, only three people arrived to vote at the courthouse.
“If that’s an indication,” DeVriendt said, “people are willing to wait for election day.”