Simon describes unusual election features this year
ST. PAUL — The General Election on Nov. 3 is going to be one of the most unusual elections in United States history, and the full results of that election may not be known for a full week after.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon held a teleconference briefing Tuesday for news media to talk about election results reporting for this year and to explain some of the changes.
Simon said elections are always intense because they represent a clash of ideas, but this year the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the state to view the election as a public health issue.
Simon broke down the polling statistics for Minnesota. The state has roughly 3,000 polling locations and an estimated 3 million people were going to vote. That is an average of 1,000 people per polling site. Based on these numbers the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending alternative voting.
“We’re not saying polling places are death traps,” Simon said, “But we are considering alternative voting options.”
Voting from home through the mail-in ballot is the recommended method. Simon said the state has already seen record-shattering vote-by-mail numbers this year.
Due to the once-in-a-ifetime pandemic hitting during an election year, the Legislature has allowed extra time to count mail-in ballots before the general election. Previously mail-in ballots could be counted a week before the general election but now Minnesota is allowed to start counting 14 days before the election. The courts have also ruled mail-in ballots postmarked on election day, Nov. 3, could be as long as the ballot arrives by Nov. 10. This means the state could still be counting absentee ballot a week after election night.
“That will change the election night reporting,” Simon said. On normal election night, the media would typically have the total vote count supplied after all the polls closed, but this year a higher percentage of absentee ballots could still come in up to a week later.
Though the full election results may not be available for a week after, Simon believed the media would be able to declare a winner in some races without the full vote.
“The day before the election on Nov. 2 we will have the number of absentee ballots requested versus those returned,” Simon said. This means the media will know how many potential mail-in ballots could come in over the next week.
For example, if 3,000 mail-in ballots were requested for a precinct and 2,700 were returned by Nov. 2 the media now knows only 300 potential ballots are outstanding in that precinct. If on election night, one of the candidates in that precinct is ahead by 500 votes the media could reasonably declare the candidate the winner. Even if all 300 of the remaining votes come back for other candidates with fewer votes it would not overtake the 500 vote margin.
Simon said all the mail-in ballots and early voting ballots received before election night would be compiled with the in-person polling numbers on Nov. 3. The media will have a complete count of all ballots received up to that point. Only the ballots still in the mail will remain to be counted.
Simon said his department is recommending counties provide a daily report of new votes processed every day after the election until Nov. 10.
Simon also asked the public to have patience with election officials. He said only nine of the 87 counties in Minnesota have full-time election people. All other counties have election departments that also handle other county business.
Simon was asked additional questions about election security and concerns over the mail-in ballot process. He said the mail-in ballot had layered security. Requesting the mail-in ballot requires the applicant to supply personal information to ensure it is a legitimate request. This personal identification information is the primary source of authentication. Simon said the signature on the ballot is not the primary source of authorization and has not been the primary form of authentication since 2008.
Cybersecurity was another concern. Simon said Minnesota had minimized the risk for cyber attacks on the election. He said no one can claim 100% protection against an enemy determined to hack a system, but Minnesota does use physical ballots that create a paper trail. Even if someone electronically changes the numbers, a paper audit would uncover and foil this kind of attack.
In response to a question about intimidation at the polls, Simon said each party is allowed a single challenger at the poll, but they are not allowed to interact with voters and no armed individuals will be allowed to monitor the polls. Simon predicted a calm and orderly process and the polls on election night.
Minnesota will not be alone in delayed reporting results. Other states will also have different vote reporting issues and many states will have different regulations than Minnesota. Simon said Pennsylvania’s voting regulations prohibit the counting of mail-in ballots until election night. Michigan will be accepting ballots postmarked Nov. 3 for two weeks after the election. Since Michigan is a swing state this election, the full results of the 2020 Presidential election might not be known until Nov. 17.
Simon wanted to assure news media that this delay of voting results was by design in response to the pandemic and to assure all votes were counted accurately.
“This is not because we’re lazy,” he said. “This is part of the plan and it is not evidence of someone trying to steal the election.”
Simon wanted to get ahead of conspiracy theories suggesting the delays were the result of government tampering with election results. He believed the time between the Nov. 3 election and the release of the final results was fertile grounds for conspiratorial accusations and attempts to delegitimize the election. By explaining to media in advance why results were delayed he hoped to alleviate concerns.
“We want to be transparent about this,” he said.