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According to the state, absentee ballots have seen an increase this election cycle as extra precautions are being taken during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the COVID-19 pandemic may be uppermost in the minds of the public this summer, American politics has also been vying for the limelight.

Absentee ballots are a hot item as the Aug. 11 primary approaches.

Otter Tail County Auditor Wayne Stein received an email from St. Paul last week that contained a dynamic trend in the 2020 elections. Going by the number of absentee applications, Minnesotans are taking social distancing very seriously when it comes to voting. No less than 350,516 absentee ballots had been distributed to state residents as of July 10. The 2018 election saw 21,043 absentee ballots distributed and the 2016 election generated just 12,936 ballot requests. 

“It’s significantly higher,” Stein said Tuesday morning.

While Americans may like the idea of voting absentee this year to avoid any contact with COVID-19, Stein does not regard it as a sign that 2020 will see a lighter voting turnout.

“My initial reaction would be no,” Stein said.

Stein pointed out that regular polling places will be open for the primary and the general elections. 

“There are things being done to lessen people’s concerns,” Stein said of the polling places. In addition to masks for election judges and for voters, hand sanitizers and disinfectant will be on site. Social distancing will also be observed.

There are two ways to obtain an absentee ballot by mail. An online application can be requested by going to: mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/ABRegistration/ABRegistrationStep1.aspx. Upon receipt of the application the appropriate ballot, envelopes and instructions will be mailed out.

A paper absentee ballot can be obtained by applying to: sos.state.mn.us/media/2444/english-regular-absentee-ballot-application.pdf.

Applicants without internet access should contact the elections office at 218-998-8040. A paper absentee ballot application will be mailed. The completed application can then be emailed to voter@co.ottertail.mn.us or mailed to Elections, Government Services Center, 510 W. Fir Ave. W., Fergus Falls, MN, 56537.

To vote absentee in person all interested individuals can submit their ballot in person at the Otter Tail County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office in the Government Services Center from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. A half-hour will be added at the end of the day Aug. 10. The office will also be open for absentee voting from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 8.

“I just want people to participate in the method that is most comfortable for them,” Stein said.

The Aug. 11 ballot contains primary candidates for federal offices from the Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor Parties as well as the Legal Marijuana Now Party and the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party. Votes will be cast for U.S. Senator and District 7 House of Representative candidates. 

The primary ballot will give voters the chance to vote for one of six District 1 county commissioner candidates and one of the five people running for the District 3 seat. Neither incumbent, Doug Huebsch of District 1 or John Lindquist of District 3, is running for another term on the board of commissioners.   

Absentee voting in the 2020 elections began June 26 and is scheduled to end at 5 p.m. Aug. 10.

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