By David Schuman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Early voting has been underway for about a month, and the director of elections for Blue Earth County says the turnout so far is “unprecedented.”

“It’s kind of like when you’re getting ready to run a race and you’ve got all that energy built up,” Michael Stalberger said. “We’re seeing that in a lot of our voters.”

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Stalberger says the number of absentee ballots already returned in Blue Earth County is double the amount they saw in all of 2016.

Statewide, 911,385 ballots have been accepted as of Friday, Oct. 16.

During the 2016 presidential election, 676,722 ballots were accepted.

“To me, that really shows that people are not worried about the mail-in voting, that they trust it,” said Julie Tesch, the president and CEO of the Center for Rural Policy and Development

Stalberger named several measures ensuring the integrity of the early votes, starting with a database to check that voters receive only one ballot.

He says all voters’ identities get verified, then the ballots are securely stored.

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“They get locked in our vault where we keep a strict accounting of them to make sure that every vote we’ve accounted for doesn’t get lost or misplaced or misfiled,” Stalberger said.

Tesch says rural communities are generally used to mail-in voting.

Dropping off ballots in person is an option for voters too.

“I was just up in Brainerd this last week and talking to the county administrator there, he said there’s not a line, but it’s fairly constant of people dropping off their ballots at that ballot drop box,” Tesch said.

Early ballots can get rejected, and Stalberger says the most common reason is not correctly following the return instructions.

If there’s time, those voters automatically receive replacement ballots that point out what they did wrong.

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Click here to track where your ballot is in the process, and whether it’s been accepted or rejected

David Schuman