A new law passed during the 2023 legislative session included many changes to elections administration policy, elections funding, and absentee voting.
The Legislature passed several laws during the 2023 legislative session related to elections administration, contained in Chapter 62, that cities should be aware of, including changes to administration and funding.
Funding for local governments
The Legislature passed several mechanisms to assist local governments with the costs of elections administration.
2023 Regular Session Chapter 62 established a Voting Operations, Technology, and Election Resource (VOTER) Account to which $1.25 million will be allocated per year for expenses related to elections. By July 20 each year, the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State (OSS) will distribute funds to all 87 counties, 20% allocated equally, and 80% based on proportion of registered voters.
Counties must distribute funds to cities and townships by Dec. 31 of each year by either an agreed distribution or by the following distribution:
- 50% to county.
- 25% to all municipalities and townships.
- 25% based on absentee balloting administration responsibility.
Funds may be used for:
- Hardware or software
- Security-related infrastructure
- Capital improvements to improve access to polling places for individuals with disabilities.
- Staff costs for election administrators, election judges, and other election officials.
- Printing and publication
- Local match for state or federal funds.
- Any other purpose directly related to election administration.
Cities receiving funds from this account must segregate the funds into an election funding account and report to their respective county or counties on how the funds were spent by Dec. 15 annually.
In addition to VOTER funds, the Legislature allocated $500,000 to the OSS to administer accessibility grants to counties and municipalities for polling place improvements. The OSS will be providing more information on the timelines for the administration of the grant. The Legislature also allocated matching funds to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) account.
Elections administration changes
The Legislature made various changes to election administration that cities should be aware of:
Mail balloting is no longer restricted by geographic location; any city with fewer than 400 registered voters, anywhere in the state, may be authorized to administer mail balloting.
Electronic voting systems
The electronic voting system definition in Minnesota Statutes, section 206.80 was amended to allow for multiple ballot formats/sizes within a precinct. Minnesota Statutes, section 204B.35 was also amended to permit the use of blank paper ballots when using an electronic voting system that displays required information on a touch screen or other electronic device.
Precincts using alternative ballot styles must still provide voters with the option of voting with a regularly printed optical scan ballot. In precincts where multiple ballot formats are used and ten or fewer voters use the alternate ballot format, any election judges participating in a recount or postelection review cannot be the same election judges that worked in that precinct.
Once a county/municipality has adopted the use of an electronic voting system, the county/municipality must continue to use an electronic voting system for all state elections in those precincts.
Intimidation and interference
The Legislature created a new law prohibiting activities related to the performance of duties by an election official, including intimidation, interference, obstruction, tampering, and unauthorized access to the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). This went into effect on June 15, 2023, and civil and criminal penalties apply for violations.
The law also establishes that an electronic image of the hard drive of any vote recording or tabulating system or any other component of an electronic voting system may not be created or disclosed, except as authorized in writing by the OSS or for conducting official duties as expressly authorized by law.
Felon voting rights restoration
The new law clarifies that an individual serving a felony sentence that is out in the community on state work release (Minnesota Statutes, sections 241.26 or 244.065) or local release (Minnesota Statutes, section 631.425) is not considered to be incarcerated for the purpose of voting, effective June 1, 2023.
Updates to legislative districts
Minor changes were made to the boundaries of Senate Districts 9, 12, 17, and 44, which will be effective for the statewide primary in August 2024. Impacted cities will need to adjust precinct boundaries after the presidential nomination primary and before the August 2024 election.
The law allocated funding to the OSS to conduct a study of issues related to voter engagement, education, and improvements to the election system, including assessing ranked choice voting. The study must include consultations with election administrators and community organizations. It will review existing elections systems and procedures and their compatibility with the topics of the study. An interim report must be submitted no later than Feb. 1, 2025, and a final report is required by June 30, 2025.
Absentee voting and early voting changes
In addition to extending the timeline for direct balloting and establishing early voting, the new law made several changes to administering absentee voting.
Absentee/mail ballot return deadline
The deadline for all absentee/mail ballots to be returned is now 8 p.m. on election day. Agent delivery ballots can be issued and accepted until 8 p.m. on election day.
Additional temporary absentee voting locations authorized
Authorized municipal clerks are now permitted to designate additional temporary locations for voting before election day. These temporary locations can include different dates and hours than those required by Minnesota Statutes, section 203B.085. Additional temporary locations must be designated at least 47 days before the election, and notice must be provided to OSS to include the dates, times, and locations. This change is effective June 1, 2023.
Notice and requirements for absentee/early voting locations
Locations for voting before election day (absentee/early voting) need to be designated by the county auditor at least 14 weeks before the election. Notice of these designations to include the days, times, and locations for voting must be provided to the OSS at the time that the designations are made.
Notice of the days, times, and locations for absentee/early voting must also be posted at least 14 days before the first day of the absentee voting period on the OSS website, the county website, and the website for any municipality where an absentee/early voting location is located. This notice is not required to be published in the official newspaper unless the jurisdiction does not have a website. These changes are effective June 1, 2023.
Electronic transmission of absentee ballots
Emergency response providers and utility works deployed in response to a state of emergency may request to receive their ballot electronically. Voters with print disabilities may request to receive their absentee ballot electronically in an accessible format. The county auditor must also mail the return and ballot envelopes and required materials under Minnesota Statutes, section 203B.07.
In both instances, voters receiving an electronic ballot must print and return the ballot and eligibility certificate to the county auditor in a sealed envelope. Electronic return is not permitted.
Absentee/early voting reports
A report detailing the names of voters with rejected absentee ballots must be made available in the same manner as the public information lists, including during the period of voting before election day. Previously this report was only made available after the close of voting on election day. This reporting change is effective June 1, 2024.
The report listing the names of voters with accepted absentee ballots must now be separated by the method of ballot delivery for elections where the use of SVRS is required. A report listing the names of voters who have cast a ballot using early voting must also be made available for all elections held after early voting is certified for use by the OSS.
Healthcare facility voting
Healthcare facility voting may now be administered starting 35 days before election day (it previously was 20 days before the election). Election judges must now also administer health care facility voting at veterans’ homes.
The county auditor, municipal clerk, or school district clerk may also administer health care facility voting for voters living in assisted living facilities (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 144G) and/or at battered women shelters (Minnesota Statutes, section 611A.37, subdivision 4).
Prohibition of incentive based compensation for collecting absentee ballot applications
Individuals may not be compensated for collecting absentee ballot applications using a variable payment rate or based on the number of applications solicited, collected, or accepted. Compensation cannot be withheld for failure to solicit, collect, or accept a set minimum number of applications.