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Minnesota’s primary election, pandemic edition: How to vote safely in person

By Jiwon Choi

Amid the pandemic, a large number of Minnesotans have already cast their ballots through mail-in voting. To date, more than half a million Minnesotans have requested absentee ballots for the August primary election, meaning they don’t need to go to the polls on Aug. 11.

But with less than two weeks left until the primaries, time’s running out to get a mail-in ballot, if you haven’t applied for one already. Or if you just don’t want to vote by mail but still want to cast a ballot, then you must do so in person on primary day.

And now you may wonder: How can I minimize the risk of getting the virus while in the polling place? Will voting booths be sanitized? Is it safe to use the pen at the booth? Should I wear a mask while waiting outside?

For Minnesota voters concerned about going to the polls amid the pandemic, here are answers from the Minnesota Secretary of State office to some key questions on how to vote safely in person this election year.

Will voting booths, pens and other equipment and areas inside a polling station be sanitized?
Yes. Jurisdictions will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on sanitizing procedures — which include wiping down surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people, such as clipboards, voting machines and registration tables, and sanitizing tools and other materials like pens between users.

Am I required to wear a mask to vote? What if I forget to bring mine or someone comes to the polls without a mask? 
Yes, you must wear a mask to vote in the August primary election. That’s according to Minnesota’s mask mandate, which requires people to wear masks in any indoor public spaces, including polling places.

If voters aren’t already wearing masks or face coverings, they will be offered a disposable mask in the polling place. If they refuse to wear the mask, they can cast a ballot through curbside voting without violating the state’s mask requirement. If a voter declines a mask and curbside voting, they will still be allowed to vote — but their name will be recorded as in violation of the mask requirement.

Election judges and staff at the polls will practice social distancing and wear masks provided by the Secretary of State office.

Should I keep my mask on while waiting outside to vote?
Yes, according to the mask mandate, Minnesotans must wear a face covering in indoor public areas as well as while waiting to enter a public indoor space, like a polling station.

In addition to mask-wearing, you should also maintain social distance in and out of the polling places. Cloth face coverings, election officials say, “are not a replacement for social distancing.” Election judges and staff at polling stations will also help ensure proper spacing and distancing on primary day.

How can I ask for curbside voting? And how does it work?
If you have trouble leaving your vehicle or going into the polling station to vote, you can request curbside voting onsite when you arrive. You can also call your local election office ahead of time, but it’s not a requirement.

Once you get to the polling station, two election judges from different major political parties will bring out a ballot to your vehicle. If you need to register or update your registration, they will bring you an application as well. When you are finished voting, election judges will bring your ballot inside for you and put it in the ballot box.

What about wearing gloves, goggles or other personal protective gear? Can I bring my own black ink pen?
Short answer: It’s up to you. You may wear other personal protective equipment besides a face covering, if you want (again, you must wear a mask!). Hand sanitizer will be available at the polling places, and election workers will be frequently sanitizing equipment.

If you want to bring your own pen, yes, you can use it — though pens will be available at the polls and be sanitized between voters.

I still want to vote by mail to minimize the risk. Can I do that?
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon continues to encourage eligible voters to vote from home using mail-in ballots. Voters can still use the online tool to request an absentee ballot, but they should do so as soon as possible, as it takes some time to process the applications and physically mail out ballots.

For the primary, as long as voters have postmarked their ballot by Aug. 11, ballots will be accepted and counted up to two days after. Voters also have the option to bring their ballot into their county elections office in person up by 3 p.m. primary day.

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