OWATONNA — During the first week of absentee and early voting, the Steele County Auditor’s Office reports that 52 residents living within the ISD 761 boundaries have already submitted their ballots to weigh in on the decision of whether or not Owatonna will build a new high school.
The Owatonna school district took the summer to listen, reorganize, and present a new proposed bond referendum to the public after plan for a $116 million high school campus was narrowly defeated in the polls by less than 1% in May. This time around, the school district is has lowered the cost by $12 million and is also proposed to repurpose the current high school sit for a price tag of $8 million.
The special election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5, but the Steele County Auditor is suspecting that many people will vote prior to Election Day.
“The last special election we saw a higher turnout of absentee and early voting than any other election,” said auditor Laura Ihrke. “The school promoted voting early and I think that may have been one of the reasons why, and we’ve already seen voters coming in.”
During the special election in May, Ihrke reports that 3,079 people took advantage of the absentee and early voting system, making up 27% of the overall voter turnout. She stated that this is especially impressive as 63% of the registered voters within ISD 761 voted in that special election, up from 51% in the 2015 special election and 41% in the special election prior to that.
“It’s your right. Go out and vote,” Ihrke said, adding that the absentee and early voting process helps people such as service members and college students vote in the upcoming special election. “People can come into the office and vote in person or they can request an absentee ballot by mail and you don’t need a reason to vote absentee.”
Ihrke said that all the information needed to vote, whether it be early or on Election Day, can be found at the Steele County website at co.steele.mn.us under the Divisions and Land Use & Records tab. There, people can check on Election Information to check to make sure they are registered, view their absentee ballot status, find their polling place, and get a preview of what is on their ballot for the upcoming election.
This special election will have only two questions on the ballot:
Question 1: A new high school campus to be constructed for $104 million
Question 2: Repurpose the current high school site for future district and/or community use for $8 million
The second question will be contingent on the first question passing, though the first question can pass and the second question fail.
On top of absentee and early voting, the Steele County Auditor’s Office also provides services to those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities so that they, too, can vote. Ihrke said there are election judges who are trained in healthcare outreach voting who will go to the facility to aid residents in voting.
There is also agent delivery in place in Steele County, which would allow someone who unexpectedly were to be hospitalized between the period of Oct. 29 to Nov. 5 to send an agent – such as a spouse or child – to deliver a ballot on their behalf. Ihrke added that there are special forms that have to be filled out for that service, but that it is available if necessary.
“We try to make sure that we get people their opportunity to vote,” Ihrke asserted.
People can register and vote at the Steele County Auditor’s Office during their regular hours of operation Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office will also be open on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pre-registration for Election Day can be done until Oct. 15, but can also be done day-of. Polls open on Nov. 5 at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Mailed in ballots must arrive to the Auditor’s Office by 3 p.m. on Election Day.
For any other questions, call the office at 444-7410 or stop in.