MINNEAPOLIS — The latest survey of Minnesota voters found they'd at least like the option of voting by mail, and like the idea of receiving a ballot without the need to ask for one.
A poll commissioned by KARE, MPR News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked the following:
Given the concern that the coronavirus may still be contagious this fall, do you support or oppose changing election laws to allow every registered voter in Minnesota to automatically receive a ballot by mail for the November elections?
Overall, 59% of those polled said they support the idea, while 37% were opposed. The poll found support strongest in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, with 72 percent approval.
Respondents in other Twin Cities metro counties approved the idea by a 54% majority. The idea garnered support from 51% of those polled in southern Minnesota, and 52% of those in the northern counties.
"At a time of a pandemic people know we need to treat these upcoming elections as a public health issue," Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told KARE, in response to the new polling numbers.
"And that means making as easy as possible for people to vote from home. People want to do that. Support for it in this poll cut across all geographic areas."
There was a partisan split on the idea of automatically sending absentee mail-in ballots to all voters. An overwhelming 97% of those poll respondents who identify as Democrats support the idea, compared to just 23% of those who described themselves as Republicans.
Among independent voters, 49%say they support the idea, with 44% opposed and 7% undecided.
Minnesota already has no-excuse, early absentee voting. In fact, people can already go online now at the Secretary of State's elections site --www.mnvotes.org -- to request an absentee ballot if they're planning to vote by mail.
Local elections administrators across Minnesota are expecting a major surge in mail-in ballots due to the threat of coronavirus and the experience Wisconsin had of long lines of voters waiting for hours to vote in long, socially-distanced lines.
The legislature this session passed a bill that will use federal Help America Vote Act money to help fortify polling places against the virus -- money for plexiglass barriers, personal protective equipment and disinfection supplies. Grants will also be available to help state and local elections offices pay for added postage.
The DFL-controlled House of Representatives and Simon support the idea of automatically mailing ballots to all voters before they even ask for them. Voters could then decide for themselves whether to mail in that ballot, or throw it out and go vote in person instead.
Simon said 130,000 Minnesotans currently receive ballots by mail automatically because they live in towns that can't find enough poll workers to make voting in person practical. He said he's never been told of any cases of fraud among voters who have only the mail-in option.
The idea of expanding it to all voters is to reduce the numbers of people who vote in person, especially considering that many poll judges are older and more vulnerable to catching COVID-19 from a voter.
The idea hasn't gain traction in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
"Minnesotans have 46 days, 46 days to cast ballots whether in person or through the mail," Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican who is also a former secretary of state, told reporters recently.
"You have 46 days, the longest of any state. And if you want to vote in person our polling places will be safe and secure."
One of the poll respondents, Troy Marschel of Hanover, echoed President Trump in explaining why he is opposed to the idea of expanding mail-in voting.
"I’m afraid of the people stealing ballots out of other people’s mail boxes, people voting for other people. I mean, there’s just a lot of room for error in that process."
The president has said many times in interviews and via Twitter he believes mail-in voting is ripe for fraud. He has gone as far as saying Republicans could not win any elections in November if the nation switched entirely to voting by mail because of the Covid crisis.
Secretary Simon doesn't agree.
"Every reliable study around the country shows there is no political advantage for either party to voting by mail. None."
He also said it's extremely difficult for people to voter for others with stolen ballots.
"Typically, a voter will give a driver’s license number or Social Security information, and only if that matches the voter when it comes back will be the ballot be counted. So, no one could successfully steal ballots from someone’s mailbox and vote that ballot."
For the same reason, he said the system guards against double-voting by the same person. If you've voted in person you mail-in ballot won't be counted, or if you've voted by mail the poll books at the polling place will show that.
The Minnesota Poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling from May 18 through May 20. The pollsters reached 800 registered Minnesota voters statewide and interviewed them by phone. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.
Senate Republicans are still committed to the idea of instituting voter photo ID in Minnesota, or at the very list provisional ballots for those who register on Election Day. Democrats remain opposed to the idea, arguing it will disenfranchise longtime registered voters.