Wellness Wednesday: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon

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We are less than three weeks away from the federal election, and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a record number of voters are opting to vote absentee to keep themselves and those around them safe. As of Oct. 9, so far in Minnesota, 1,539,253 mail-in ballots having been requested, and 635,003 early votes have already been accepted. Minnesotans are exercising their right as citizens and making their voices heard.

Secretary of State Steve Simon is Minnesota's 22nd Secretary of State. Simon was sworn into office in 2015, and in his role as Minnesota's chief elections administrator pledged to "work with anyone of any political affiliation, from any part of our state" to defend, protect, and strengthen the right to vote in Minnesota. Secretary Simon took some time out of a very busy October to chat with The Current's Jill Riley on this week's Wellness Wednesday segment about everything absentee voting in Minnesota.

Listen to the interview above, and read a transcript of the complete conversation below. Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 CDT, Morning Show host Jill Riley connects with experts and local personalities for some real talk about keeping our minds and bodies healthy — from staying safe in the music scene, to exercising during a pandemic, to voting and civic engagement. Looking for more resources and support? Visit our friends at Call to Mind, MPR's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health.

I'm Jill Riley, and believe it or not, less than a month away from Election Day, coming up on Nov. 3. And, if you're thinking, "Okay, why talk about an election during Wellness Wednesday?" Well, I think there's a really important piece of the civic engagement part, and for this year, I don't know about you, but a global pandemic has never been so out front when I've headed to the polls before, so we want to talk about safety in casting your ballot. And that's why I have Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon with me this morning. Good morning, how are you?

Good morning, I'm great, thanks for having me.

Yeah, like I said, it's hard to believe that Election Day is creeping up so close, coming up on Nov. 3. Really, I think this is the most general question I can ask, is just why vote?

Oh well, our vote is our voice. It's our way to have a say in who governs us and how. We can hire people, we can fire people, with just the stroke of a pen really, through our collective action. And so, it's really important, especially this year, where the stakes are high. And I'm not just talking about a presidential race. All up and down the ballot, the way I look at it is, look, people get elected to all sorts of stuff. President of the United States, school board, governor, you name it. And what they do or fail to do when they get to office has real downstream effects on all of us. And so, everyone should vote. It's in your self-interest, and it makes you part of a community. It's both.

In the year 2020, it seems like even the voting process has become a political issue.

Yeah, and that's really unfortunate. There are things that have been on the books in Minnesota and in most states for years, for generations in fact, that were never political until this year. I'm talking about things like voting from home, absentee voting. That's what we've been doing for almost a hundred years in Minnesota. This is nothing new or radical or COVID-specific. We've been doing this for a long, long time, and yet some people have seemingly tried to politicize this where it was never political before.

So, if someone wanted to vote right now, I mean, how would they go about that?

Two choices to vote right now: one is to go to our website, which is mnvotes.org, and order the ballot to come to you to vote from home, which, as I say, we've been doing for a century, but this year it's really on steroids. I mean, this year, over 1.2 million people already in Minnesota have asked for this option, which is about quadruple or more what happened two years ago. So that's one option. The other option is to vote in-person absentee, meaning go somewhere, go to typically a city hall or county office, and if you don't know where that is, go to mnvotes.org, and you can vote in-person absentee. So, the same experience as Game Day, as Election Day, but you can avoid the Game Day hassle or crowds, and just go to an office and get that done physically, in-person.

So, let's say I do it today. If I show up, do I have to have some kind of excuse, or how does that process work?

Not at all.

Okay.

For the last several years, last seven years, we have not had an excuse or explanation requirement whatsoever. If you're an eligible voter, it's no one's business why you want to do it. No one asks, and you shouldn't say. You just go in, and if you're an eligible voter, that's it! You can vote in-person absentee, or go to mnvotes.org and order that ballot to come to you at home.

Alright so if I have the ballot at home, what's the deadline to get that ballot in?

So, this is the cool part. This year and this year only, a 2020 special, very on-brand for this unconventional year, we have a special rule in place, and that rule is that for this year, you can postmark it as late as Election Day, Tuesday November 3. It's not the normal rule, but it is the rule this year. You can postmark it Tuesday, November 3 as long as it gets in a week later, by Tuesday, November 10. If it arrives on the 11, it's no good, it will not be counted. But if it arrives in seven days, it is. That means everyone in Minnesota has an automatic seven-day cushion to get that thing from point A to point B. It can never be lower than or less than seven days. Now, there may be some of your listeners who say, you know, "I'm skittish about the Postal Service, and I want to mail it on Monday, or Saturday, or the Friday before, or the Thursday before," and that's great, but you can wait up to Tuesday, November 3 itself. It all depends on every individual's tolerance for risk, I guess.

Okay, let's say Election Day, November 3, I want to go to my polling place. What are some of the safety and maybe precautionary measures that are being considered for polling places?

Well, fortunately, we had a really good dress rehearsal of sorts with the August 11 primary, also a statewide election, and the strategy that we used there worked very, very successfully. And we're gonna do the same for Nov. 3, which is, we are purchasing and distributing to all 3,000 polling places in Minnesota, PPE and supplies. We will have high-grade, almost surgical grade masks for all of the poll workers and the election judges. We're gonna have regular-grade masks for voters themselves who show up without one. We're gonna have hand sanitizers and pumps and wipes, and we're gonna have rules in place that we worked on with the Department of Health that govern everything from the use of pens to social distancing to the automatic wipe down of the polling surfaces after the use by voters.

What if I'm feeling kind of intimidated while I'm there? What can I do as a voter? Like, should I report that to someone? How does that process work?

Yeah, there are multiple avenues for there. If you are feeling hassled or intimidated or threatened in any way, I would first say get the attention of someone on site, an election judge, and poll worker, and let them know the particulars. If you know the person or can point the person out, that's important. You can also contact our office. If you go to mnvotes.org, there's information about that. Or, depending on the type or level of harassment, you can even talk to law enforcement, a police department in your local area as well. That is not tolerated, and in Minnesota, we're lucky. We have very strict and specific laws about what can be done to voters in the polling places. Voters have the right in Minnesota to be left alone, the right to vote peacefully and thoughtfully in a calm environment in the polling place. And our laws are pretty hardcore in that regard, in a good way.

Well that's good to know. Election Day, coming up Nov. 3. Folks can head over to the Secretary of State's website, because there are a lot of resources there for, I think, just about any question that anyone could have can be answered there.

Yeah, it's mnvotes.org. You can go there to find out where your polling place is. You can go there to find out who and what is on your ballot in the particular area where you live. You can go there to order an absentee ballot, to check voting results, to check the status of your ballot if you've mailed it in. It's a great one-stop shop for election time.


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