As Election Day looms, Minnesota counties are trying to prepare for the unknown in the terms of how voting will looking in the era of COVID-19.
Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, $400 million was set aside as a part of the Help America Vote Act to “prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 Federal election cycle.”
There is some money for Steele County, according to Laura Ihrke, the county auditor, during Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
“Steele County has money available from the CARES Act to help with elections in the amount of $33,438.05,” she said. “Some of that will be allocated to the cities and townships, which will leave us with $15,136.65.”
While Ihrke said that the money left over specifically for the county should be enough to cover any costs needed to provide personal protective equipment-related expenses to ensure election judges and everyone coming to vote are protected. And, she added, her office is hoping to have enough to look into a new piece of equipment specifically for Election Day.
“We want to look into getting a mail ballot opener to speed things alone,” Ihrke said. “We will see an increase in mail ballots this year.”
Earlier this year, Ihrke said that she has seen more requests for mail-in and absentee ballots than she has at this time during any other election year. Mail-in voting has been a hot topic on the political scene following the COVID-19 pandemic, with one side saying it’s important to protect the health of the voter and the other side saying it’s important to protect the security of voting. Regardless, Ihrke assured the commissioners that there will be a larger number of mailed in ballots than they have seen before.
Though Commissioners Greg Krueger and Rick Gnemi shared concerns that the CARES Act funding specific to voting was less than they had imagined, County Administrator Scott Golberg said that any leftover dollars from the CARES Act could be put toward equipment.
“It just has to meet the eligibility criteria,” Golberg said, adding that protecting voters and election judges fall into the parameters of what the funding is for.