The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 6, 2012

Ins & outs of how, where to vote

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Minnesota has led the nation in voter turnout for eight straight election cycles.

The reason?

Mostly, it’s because Minnesotans are above average in intelligence, civic-mindedness, patriotism and determination.

Also, there’s how easy Minnesota makes it to vote.

Less than a quarter of eligible Minnesota voters failed to cast a ballot in the last presidential election of 2008. More than 500,000 Minnesotans did what can be done in only nine states — register on Election Day.

If you’re thinking about voting for the first time or if you just need a reminder on the rules, here’s what you need to know:

Already registered?

All you need to do is show up at your precinct polling place and put your signature next to your name on the list of registered voters. You don’t need to show a photo ID (although that might change next time, along with other voting rules, if the second constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot is supported by a majority of voters).

If you think you’re registered and want to make sure, go to mnvotes.org (the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website) and click on “Voter Registration Lookup” under the “Registering to Vote” tab. After you plug in your name, birthday and address, the site will confirm if you’re good to go registration-wise. It will also give you the option of getting a map to your polling place and a sample ballot.

Not registered?

Election Day registration is a pretty quick process in Minnesota, especially if you have a current ID. First figure out where your polling place is. Mnvotes.org will tell you based on your address.

Go to the polling place and register by showing a driver’s license or other state ID (or the paper receipt for a state ID). If your address on the ID is current, you’re all set.

If you have an outdated address on your ID, show that along with a recent bill (payment due within 30 days of Nov. 6) that ties you to your current address. Examples include a telephone bill for a land-line phone, a cable TV (or satellite TV) bill, an Internet service bill, or a utility bill for gas, electricity, water or garbage. A rent statement from within 30 days of Nov. 6 (if the statement lists that utilities are paid as part of the rent) or a current student fee statement also work.

Remember, you have to have both the bill and the ID with the outdated address.

There is one way around the requirements listed above: vouching. If a registered voter from your precinct is able to verify that you live in the precinct, he or she can sign an oath to that effect and you can vote.

A college student?

If your college provided a student housing list to election officials, you can register just by showing your student ID.

As for where to vote, it depends on whether you consider your college address as the place you “reside” or if you consider your hometown as the place where you “reside.” If it’s back home, you have to go there to vote or do it by absentee ballot. Otherwise, you can vote in your college town. Obviously, you can’t do both.

Can’t get to the polls?

If you have to work on Election Day, state law requires your boss to let you go vote — with pay and without requiring you to take vacation time — for the amount of time that it reasonably would take. The boss can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor for not allowing you to vote. (You have to go back to work after you vote, so don’t try to use this statute to knock off early.)

If you’re in a nursing home or other residential facility and would find it physically difficult to get to your polling place, you can make a request for “agent delivery of absentee ballot.” The form is available at the mnvotes.org website and at local elections offices. The agent, who has to be somebody you know, can pick up an absentee ballot anytime up until 2 p.m. Tuesday and then return to the elections office with the filled-out ballot anytime before 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Aren’t sure if you’re eligible?

All of the above-listed information is irrelevant if you’re not at least 18 years old; if you’ve got a felony record that isn’t discharged, expired or completed; if you’re not a U.S. citizen; or if you haven’t lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days. In all of those cases, it’s a crime if you vote. One other thing. If you’re dead, don’t vote. That’s illegal, too.

Don’t have online access?

County elections offices (or the auditor’s office) will answer your questions by phone. Many city clerks will, too. And starting Monday and running all day Tuesday, the League of Women Voters will have people standing by to answer your voting questions at 1-800-663-9325.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., although a few rural townships will open later in the morning.