Minnesota Secretary Of State - Mail ballot precincts
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Mail ballot precincts


In Minnesota, cities outside the Twin Cities metro area with fewer than 400 registered voters, or townships of any size, can choose to vote exclusively by mail by resolution of their city council or township board. Minnesota has had these mail ballot precincts for over 30 years; the legislation authorizing this type of voting for residents of small, non-metro jurisdictions became law in 1987.

Many thousands of Minnesotans have been voting in mail ballot precincts in every state election cycle since that time. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between mail ballot voting and voting absentee by mail?

In Minnesota, there is not much difference. If you are an active registered voter in a mail ballot precinct, you will be sent a mail ballot to your residence without having to complete an absentee ballot application. Absentee voting requires the voter to affirmatively request a ballot with an application form. 

Why do jurisdictions choose to be a mail ballot precinct?

A jurisdiction may choose to be a Mail Ballot Precinct for several reasons:

  • The jurisdiction may have a difficult time hiring election judges to serve.
  • The cost of voting systems / equipment, annual maintenance, licensing and software updates
  • The jurisdiction may not have a choice of a suitable building for an Election Day polling place within a jurisdiction’s boundaries. Considerations include:
    • Outdoor restrooms/lack of running water
    • Surface parking for those with mobility issues
    • Heat for a building in the early part of November
    • Roads that are plowed in the winter months

Who decides to switch to mail balloting?

The city council or township board of supervisors make the determination to switch to a mail ballot precinct; the state and county do not have the authority to make any precinct move to mail balloting.

How are voters notified about the switch to mail balloting?

Once the decision is made to become a mail ballot precinct, voters will be notified by: publication in a newspaper of general circulation, posting of notice at public locations within each precinct, dissemination of information through the media or at public meetings, or mailed notice to registered voters.

Before each election/election cycle thereafter, the jurisdiction will post the mail ballot precinct voting details for that election/election cycle. Many jurisdictions choose to notify voters by additional means as well.

Can a mail ballot voter have their ballot mailed to an address that is not their residence?

If, for whatever reason, the mail ballot voter wants a ballot sent to a different address than the residence, the mail ballot voter may complete an absentee ballot application and write on that application the location they would like their absentee ballot sent to.

You can be a registered, absentee voter in a mail ballot precinct. We encourage you to complete the absentee ballot application long before the mail ballots are sent out to registered voters. That way you will only be sent an absentee ballot to the address you requested. And a mail ballot will not be sent to your address of residence.

When are mail ballots are sent out?

The earliest a mail ballot can be sent to a registered voter in a mail ballot precinct is 46 days before the election date (September 18, 2020).

However, the county elections office has a time period between 46 days and 14 days before the election to send a mail ballot to a registered voter in a mail ballot precinct.

All questions about when ballots are mailed should be directed to the county elections office.

Can voters in mail ballot precinct still “Track their Ballot” for state elections?

Like absentee voters, once the county has sent out the mail ballots to registered voters, that information can be tracked. The mail ballot voter can go online and view that the mail ballot has been “sent,” “received,” or “accepted.”

What happens with “Challenged” voters in mail ballot precincts?

If a voter is “challenged,” a mail ballot will not be sent to them. However, a letter explaining that they are “challenged” and providing instructions as to completing an absentee ballot application and/or voting on Election Day must be provided to the “challenged” voter.

What about voters who move into a mail ballot precinct?

For those who are new to a mail ballot precinct or their voter registration record has become inactivated due to not voting at least once every four years, will need to complete an absentee ballot application and a new voter registration application.

If the voter is not registered at least 20 days before Election Day (pre-registered), they will need to provide a proof of residence as part of an Election Day registration with their absentee ballot. Voters who are not pre-registered must have a witness to verify their proof of residence and sign their absentee ballot return envelope.

Can mail ballot precinct voters go anywhere to vote on Election Day?

All mail ballot precincts have a polling place on Election Day. It is usually located at the county election offices. Contact that office to inquire as to the mail ballot polling location on Election Day.

The mail ballot precinct polling place is open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for mail ballot precinct voters.

What are options for mail ballot precinct voters on Election Day?

Mail ballot voters on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. can:
  • Return their voted mail ballot to that polling place.
  • Have an agent return their voted mail ballot to that polling place (limit of three others’ ballots can be returned as an agent).
  • Take their unvoted ballot packet to that polling place, vote it and turn it in.
  • Go to polling place and inform them that your mail ballot was spoiled, lost, thrown away, etc. and:
    • Have a replacement ballot issued
    • Vote the replacement ballot
    • Turn it in
  • Vote an absentee ballot because they are currently not an “active” registered voter on Election Day

When are mail ballots counted?

Counting of mail ballots begins on the 14th day before the election. Results of mail ballots that have been counted through Election Day will be included in the results reported on election night.

Mail ballots returned by the U.S. Post Office or mail delivery service, postmarked November 3rd or earlier, will be counted if received up to seven days after Election Day. 

Are there more mail ballot precincts now than there used to be?

More and more municipalities have opted to vote by mail. The list below shows the number of mail ballot precincts in recent state general elections:
  • 2020: 1345
  • 2018: 938
  • 2016: 739
  • 2014: 588