Election 2020 Washington Mail Voting

Vote-by-mail ballots are shown in sorting trays, Wednesday at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Washington. The state has offered voting by mail since 2011. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

With the exception of a couple of infamously long and drawn out recounts, and a switch to takes-long-to-tabulate ranked-choice voting in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park, Minnesotans are accustomed to finding out who wins their elections shortly after the polls close on Election Night.

Courtesy of COVID-19, this year may be an exception.

Litigation that challenged Minnesota’s election rules amid the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a two-day extension for voters to get ballots in — meaning all the results won’t be in by the end of Election Day.

While some results are expected to be released the night of Election Day as they have in past years, they won’t be final, and will have to be updated over the following days as the final ballots trickle in. Most ballots are likely to be in on election night, but in close races those late votes could make a difference.

Here’s a look at what to expect when you’re expecting election results next week.

Updated results

Under normal circumstances, Minnesotans who vote absentee have to make sure their ballots get to their local election center no later than Election Day.

As part of a consent decree related to litigation brought by citizen groups, voters in Minnesota get an extra two days to get their ballots in, provided they are postmarked no later than Election Day. That means those ballots need to arrive at elections centers no later than August 13 to be counted for the primary (for the November general election, ballots can arrive up to seven days after Election Day and still be counted).

Normally, officials can start opening and processing ballots one week before the election. This time around, because of a law change, that process started two weeks before Election Day. Those ballots won’t be officially counted until after the polls close on Election Day.

In terms of closely watched contests, there are two major Congressional primaries on the ballot next week — the DFL primary in CD5 and the GOP primary in CD7, several contested legislative primaries and lots of local elections, including a special election for the Ward 6 city council seat in Minneapolis.

But don’t expect to know all the winners right away.

“We won’t have full results on election night,” said Deborah Erickson, the administrative services director for Crow Wing County who chairs the elections committee of the Minnesota Association of County Officials.

Normally, local governments don’t report results to the Secretary of State unless all the ballots — in-person and absentee — in a given precinct were in. But the Secretary of State’s office has determined it’s permissible to release preliminary, partial results under present conditions.

Erickson said most counties will at least have partial results reported on election night, including Election Day votes, early in-person votes, and absentee votes accepted in time to be counted.

“Like everything else 2020 related, there are going to be changes and we’re just asking voters to be patient,” Erickson said.

What the reporting schedule following election night will look like, exactly, will vary by locale. Some counties have indicated to the Secretary of State’s office they will not report results on election night.

Duluth City Clerk Chelsea Helmer said Duluth typically receives mail mid-morning and will run ballots received Wednesday and Thursday afterward, reporting the results to the county.

St. Louis County, of which Duluth is the county seat, plans to update counts at the end of the day Thursday, so there will be two batches of returns: one election night, and one at the end of the day Thursday once all the ballots that made the deadline are figured in, said Phil Chapman, county elections supervisor, in an email.

The Secretary of State’s office said in a press release Friday it would update results as it receives them.

Ranked-choice in Minneapolis

Things are a little more complicated in Minneapolis, where ranked-choice voting will determine the outcome of the race replacing Abdi Warsame, who took a job running the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, on the city council.

Like other jurisdictions, Minneapolis will tally preliminary results that include Election Day, early and received absentee ballots. They will update their results as ballots come in Wednesday and Thursday.

Hennepin County will have preliminary results on Tuesday night, and plans to update results with the votes that come in on Wednesday and Thursday those evenings. If the ballots they receive exceed what they can process by Thursday night, the county may do another update Friday morning, said Ginny Gelms, election manager.

What about the Ward 6 Minneapolis City Council race? Preliminary results that show the raw number choice votes for each candidate will be released along with regular primary results. But the city won’t start the ranked-choice voting tabulation — in which voters second and third choices are assigned to candidates after first and second choices have been eliminated — until all the ballots are in, likely Friday. (If one candidate for the Ward 6 seat wins more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, no tabulation will be needed.)

“Given that it’s a single ward, barring anything unforeseen, we should be able to tabulate Friday,” said Jeff Narabrook, a Minneapolis elections administrator.

Greta Kaul is MinnPost’s data reporter.

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