The new law, which includes special procedures for conducting elections safely during the pandemic, appropriates a total of $17 million in federal and state funding in fiscal year 2020.
Chapter 77 (HF 3429), passed and signed into law during the regular legislative session, provides special procedures for the safe and secure conduct of the 2020 state primary and state general elections during the COVID-19 outbreak.
It also includes the appropriation of funds for administration, security, accessibility, training, public health, and safety in conducting the elections.
The bill was authored by Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake). The new law became effective on May 13.
City authority to enact special procedures
The new law outlines local authority allowing a city, by ordinance or resolution, to:
- Designate polling places no later than July 1, 2020.
- Train and designate employees of a health care facility or hospital to administer the absentee voting process.
- Extend the period during which absentee ballots are processed, beginning 14 days before the election and no more than two days following the date of the election.
Schools as polling places
Chapter 77 clarifies that the governing body of a municipality must only use a school as a polling place when no other public or private location is reasonably available for that purpose.
Processing of absentee ballots
The law extends the time period that a municipal clerk can begin processing absentee ballots 14 days prior to the date of the election.
After the close of business on the 14th day before the election, a voter whose record indicates that an absentee ballot has been accepted must not be permitted to cast another ballot at that election. It also allows for the processing of absentee ballots up to two days following the election.
Chapter 77 allows a filing officer to accept electronic mail, facsimile, or other electronic submissions of any of the following:
- An affidavit of candidacy, including any applicable filing fees.
- A nominating petition, including petition signatures collected electronically.
- A request that a write-in candidate’s votes be counted.
HAVA appropriations and uses
Chapter 77 appropriates over $14 million in total federal funding in fiscal year 2020 from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) account to the secretary of state, as well as almost $3 million in state funding from the general fund for the following uses:
- Modernizing, securing, and updating the statewide voter registration system and for cybersecurity upgrades as authorized by federal law.
- Improving accessibility.
- Preparing training materials and training local election officials.
- Implementing security improvements for election systems.
- Funding other activities to improve the security of elections.
The funding will also be used for a yet-to-be established grant program for local units of government to be used for:
- Ensuring the health and safety of election officials and in-person voters, including the purchase of sanitation and disinfectant supplies.
- Doing public outreach and preparing to implement social distancing guidelines related to voting, including adding signs and staff.
- Facilitating, supporting, and preparing for increased absentee voting, including preparation 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 along with equipment necessary to support the system.
- Issuing grants authorized by the local grant program and administering that program.