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Here's what happens to your Minnesota absentee ballot after you mail it back

KARE 11 decided to follow the ballots at a Twin Cities area county elections office, to see the process and security measures from start to finish.

CHASKA, Minn. — As a record number of people vote by mail this election, many people have been wondering what happens to your absentee ballot when it leaves your hands.

KARE 11 decided to find out by tracking ballots from start to finish, using Carver County in the metro as an example.

The process starts when the mail truck pulls up to the Carver County Government Center in the morning, to deliver voters' absentee ballots back to the election office.

"They deliver it to our central services staff, and our central services staff will sort out our ballots that have been returned," Carver County Elections Manager Kendra Olson explained. "Two staff members will go to pick up ballots from central services."

From this point, the ballots enter a secure room where socially-distanced election judges start to go to work.

The judges open all of the mailer envelopes to get to the signature envelopes. The ballots are inside of that; these are what judges use to match information with your absentee ballot application, to ensure you are who you say you are. 

"Once they have those signature envelopes separated by precinct they will find the applications that were submitted to match those up," Olson said.

The election judges are looking to make sure the Minnesota driver's license or ID number or Social Security number on the ballot matches exactly with the original absentee ballot application. The judges are also checking to ensure every envelope is signed.

RELATED: Here's how Minnesota election officials are keeping your mail-in ballot secure

If there is a mistake with the ID numbers or the signatures, the ballots are rejected before they are even opened, and the voter will receive another ballot in the mail. If it all checks out, the envelopes are marked "accepted."

Then, for security, the election judges switch.

"Two judges need to verify the ID information in the signature envelope and to the voter application to make sure we can accept the ballot," Olson said.

After the ballots are accepted or rejected, they're scanned into the state's system, with each voter getting their own bar code. This is when you can go to the online ballot tracker on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website, where it will tell you when your ballot has been received.

After that, the ballots go to jail.

"We have a jail holding cell, yes," Olson said.

If an unauthorized person wanted to access the ballots, they would literally have to break into jail.

"We would certainly notice something like that," Olson said.

Carver County uses an old courthouse holding cell, giant skeleton key and all, to hold the ballots until two weeks before the election. On that day, and not a day sooner, the election judges can begin opening the actual ballots and running them through the voting machines.

"By law this election, we are allowed to open those ballot boxes and put them through the central count machine, but we close polls on election night for absentee ballots at 8 p.m. just like the polling place," Olson explained. "No one will be aware of the tally until 8 p.m. on election night, just like the polling places. 

In a ruling on Oct. 29, a federal appeals court cast doubt on whether absentee ballots received after Election Day would be counted. The Secretary of State now recommends voters return all ballots by Nov. 3.

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