MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The number of Minnesotans requesting mail-in ballots this year has reached numbers never seen before.

The secretary of state’s office said there have been 546,000 ballots requested so far this election period.

That’s ten times more than the 2018 election and it’s only August.

A trip to the ballot box will look different for thousands of Minnesotans this year since they’ll be sitting in the comfort of their homes when they bubble in their preferred candidates.

Lauren Rosenberg of Minneapolis started doing mail-in ballots when she was still a teenager.

“It’s just easier, a lot easier to just go online, apply for it. Every time I’ve applied they’ve mailed it within a few days,” she said. “The packet might be a little overwhelming when you first get it. But as long as you read the instructions and read them before you actually do it, follow them, I don’t think people should have problems.”

Others who haven’t requested an absentee ballot yet, like Dustin Anderson, worry it’s too late to do so for Tuesday’s upcoming primary.

“I was nervous that I didn’t have enough time to get it done and still have my vote counted in time,” Anderson said.

If a voter has already received an absentee ballot, the day of the primary, August 11, is the latest a voter can send the ballot in the mail. There’s then a two-day buffer for election offices to receive and count the votes after that date.

However, because of the massive increase in absentee ballots, cities like Minneapolis are suggesting voters mail in their ballots no later than Aug. 5 to ensure it arrives by the Aug. 13.

Avoiding the mail though is another option.

“You can drop it off in person or have someone you know and trust drop it off on your behalf and the place to drop it off would be the place on the outside of the envelope, the place you would have mailed it,” said Steve Simon, Minnesota’s Secretary of State. “Election day is the final day you can drop off a ballot, not two days afterwards.”

So what about the ballots that have already arrived at election officers, are they being counted now?

Not exactly, Secretary Simon said election officials start opening the envelopes as early as two weeks before Election Day.

“The way to picture it is [the ballots are] sort of fed into a machine, but they’re not officially tallied yet. So ‘processed’ means they’re opened, they’re ready to go so that when the polls close on 8 p.m. on election night, then they can start to be actually tallied,” he said.

Andrew Stanger said his mail-in ballot is still sitting on his kitchen table.

“The mail system, I have enough faith in it. They’ll make it to where it needs to go,” he said.

Rosenberg sent her ballot a while ago.

“I always do the “track your ballot” status on the Minnesota secretary of state site,” she said, a feature Simon suggests concerned voters use.

“You don’t have to throw something in the mail and say a prayer and just hope it gets there on time. You can know whether it has or not,” he said.

And although your vote won’t include a trip to a polling place, it will feature a similar mark of pride.

“You even get the ‘I Voted’ sticker, too. So that’s a nice little perk,” Rosenberg said.

Secretary Simon said the current projection is that more than one million Minnesotans will vote absentee during the general election.

To handle the increase, absentee ballots will be counted up to a week after November’s Election Day, however they must still be postmarked no later than Election Day.

Counting the massive amount of ballots will be a tall task. Simon said cities and counties have access to federal dollars to hire temporary staff to help. One struggle the state is experiencing is getting enough election judges for November’s Election Day. He said they typically need 30,000. With so many election judges being seniors and retirees, many aren’t participating this year due to COVID-19 concerns.

“What I can say generally is that people feel quite comfortable about the primary. It’s a question mark for the general [election] because not everyone who’s doing it in the primary is ready yet to commit to doing it again in the general. A lot of people are hanging back and waiting to see what happens with COVID,” he said.

If you’d like to request an absentee ballot, click here.

Jeff Wagner