Early voting for the 2020 General Election began in Minnesota last week. With the ongoing spector of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over this year's election, many voters are concerned about the safety of in-person voting on Election Day.

Early voting for the 2020 General Election began in Minnesota last week. With the ongoing spector of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over this year’s election, many voters are concerned about the safety of in-person voting on Election Day.

Fortunately, Min­neso­tans have an option available for them to safely cast their votes before Tuesday, November 3.

Chippewa County Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May, explained the process for local citizens to vote early. She said: “To vote early people need to complete an absentee ballot application and submit it to our office. This can also be done online at <www.mnvotes.org>, or by contacting our office at 320-269-7447.”

According to May, once her office receives the application, and once they verify the voter’s registration, an absentee ballot will be mailed to them along with a pre-paid stamped return envelope.

Ballots can be returned in one of two ways. “In addition to voters returning their ballots by mail in the pre-paid stamped envelope, voters can also bring their ballots directly to the Auditor/Treasurer’s office at the Chippewa County Courthouse,” said May.

For those voters who choose to vote early by absentee ballots, they need to be aware of some important deadlines. May said: “For early voters, they can vote in-person up until 5:00 p.m. on November 2, at the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office. Absentee ballots can be dropped off at the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office up until 3:00 p.m. on Election Day. Mail ballot precinct voters can drop off their ballots until 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Please note that these times are different. The Auditor/Treasurer’s Office will be accepting ballots received in the mail if they are postmarked on or before Election Day, and received within 7 days of Election Day.”

Voters who choose to drop off their ballots at the Chippewa County Court House are able to do so during regular business hours. “We will also have extended hours for early voting on Saturday, Octo- ber 31, from 10:00 a.m through 3:00 p.m., and on Monday October 2 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., said May.

It is very important for voters to mark these various deadlines, especially the mail-in ballots. May said: “We are recommending that voters do not wait until the last minute to return their ballots. They should allow for adequate mailing time.”

According to May, the Treasurer/Auditor’s Office will begin tabulating ballots starting 14 days before November 3. “While ballots are being processed through the tabulator, no results will be available until after the polls close on Election Day,” she said.

May reports that requests for absentee ballots and early voting have been steady due to concerns over COVID-19. “During the 2018 General Election, we transmitted 696 absentee ballots in total. To date, for the 2020 General Election, we’ve transmitted 925 ballots, which is a 33 percent increase over 2018. We still have six weeks until Election Day 2020.”