By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
Well-trained voting judges, use of updated voting equipment and secure vote tabulations from 91 precincts will again make for fair and safe elections in Otter Tail County in 2022.
During the past several months the staff of the county Auditor-Treasurer’s office has received inquiries regarding the absentee voting process, voter registration requirements, election day registration, election equipment and Election Day voting.
In 2018 Otter Tail County obtained a voting equipment grant from the state of Minnesota to update existing precinct-based equipment. Matching dollars were required in order to complete the project, paid for by county taxpayers through the annual levy.
Otter Tail County acquired, from Election Systems and Software, 87 DS200 optical scan ballot tabulators. This equipment is used in the polling place on Election Day, as well as to tabulate absentee ballots.
“This DS200 system is extremely reliable,” says County Auditor-Treasurer Wayne Stein. “There are built-in securities with this vote tabulator system.”
Stein emphasizes that neither the optical scan tabulators or Otter Tail County’s voting accumulation software systems at the Government Services Center in northwest Fergus Falls are connected to the internet, so no wrongdoing can take place. Tabulated votes are then forwarded to the Secretary of State office in St. Paul.
“The tabulators will point out voter marking errors,” Stein said. “Equipment is tested prior to each election, and a post-election review is completed after the general election to verify that the tabulators have counted accurately.”
Stein said he has worked with the Minnesota Secretary of State office for many years and says they have always been focused on fairness of elections.
For an individual to obtain an absentee ballot, that person must first complete and submit an absentee ballot application through the county auditor’s office located at the Government Services Center.
Absentee ballot applications can be obtained and completed in-person at the county Auditor-Treasurer’s office. Upon request, a paper application can be mailed to an applicant. Absentee ballot applications are also available on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as a process to submit an online absentee ballot request.
Those desiring to vote via absentee ballots must provide the last four numbers as printed on the voter’s Social Security card, Minnesota-issued driver’s license number or a Minnesota-issued ID card. The county’s absentee ballot board will compare the information provided on the application with information provided on the absentee ballot signature and witness envelope.
Questions can be directed to the county Auditor-Treasurer’s office at 218-998-8030.
“The format and the language of the absentee ballot application and the absentee ballot envelope is standardized,” Stein said. “Therefore, it will be used in all 87 counties in the state of Minnesota.”
Election officials across the state and nation have made presentations about voting processes to state legislators about how absentee ballots are tabulated, how county auditor departments test equipment and how votes are tabulated correctly.
Four mail ballot precincts
Stein said Otter Tail County has four mail ballot precincts. They are the city of Urbank, the city of Rothsay, Oscar Township (west of Elizabeth), and Western Township (southwest of Orwell Dam).
“The ballots for these mail ballot precincts are mailed to registered voters within the precincts automatically,” Stein said. “They do not need to apply.”
Each of the four mail ballot precincts still needs to have a polling place somewhere on Election Day.
“Currently, that is the Government Services Center in Fergus Falls,” Stein said. “This allows mail ballot precincts to be able to get by with fewer judges, which saves some dollars.”
He said that one of the four mail ballot precincts does not have an adequate location for a polling place within the precinct.
Stein said the vote tabulation process is very similar for those who request ballots and those in the four precincts who automatically receive ballots through the mail.