The law gives new authority to cities for handling upcoming elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the Senate and House overwhelmingly approved a bill (HF 3429) that outlines procedures for the upcoming 2020 state primary and general election during the pandemic. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law as Chapter 77 on May 12.
The new law, which took effect on May 13, also appropriates federal money made available to the state through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
New authority for cities
The law gives cities the authority to:
- Designate new polling places until July 2020.
- Deputize employees of health care facilities to administer absentee voting to residents or patients of those facilities.
- Begin processing absentee ballots 14 days before the election instead of seven, and up to three days following the election.
Grants for local governments
Two allocations to the Office of the Secretary of State (OSS) are also included in the law. One made available by Congress in December 2019, and the second from the federal March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Public Law 116-136. Including state matches for each allocation, a total of more than $17 million will be appropriated to the OSS and made available until March 27, 2022.
The law allows the OSS to administer a grant program to political subdivisions to support the following authorized uses of the HAVA funds via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act:
- Taking steps to ensure the health and safety of election officials and in-person voters, including purchasing sanitation and disinfectant supplies.
- Preparing to implement social distancing guidelines related to voting, including doing public outreach, adding signs, and hiring more staff.
- Facilitating, supporting, and preparing for increased absentee voting, including the creation of voter education materials, printing, and postage.
- Preparing training materials and administering additional training for local election officials.
- Preparing new polling place locations.
- Purchasing an electronic roster system meeting the technology requirements of state law with equipment necessary to support the system.
The OSS intends to make grants available by application to local units of government as soon as possible.
The law also requires counties to report to the OSS the number of absentee ballots remaining to be counted after the 24-hour period following the election.
The law also shortens the length of time absentee ballots can be processed from an election from three days to two days, after a Senate amendment was adopted. Additionally, the amendment requires cities and counties to only use schools as polling places when no other public or private location is reasonably available for use as a polling place.