Hubbard County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Rave responded this week to questions about mail-in ballots that will be provided to Hubbard County townships for the 2020 elections.

Jim Schauer, chair of the Todd Township Board of Supervisors, told the Enterprise on Wednesday that he is concerned that people might think mail-in ballots are free. Rather, he said, they cost the townships $10.05 per ballot in Hubbard County – more than in some counties – whereas absentee ballots don't cost election precincts anything.

Contacted for comment on Thursday, Rave said the decision to have mail-in ballots was up to each township and was made at their town board meetings.

“We (the county) do not mandate the townships to go mail ballot,” she stressed, adding that township resolutions to do so were due in her office by May 11.

Most townships that first submitted such a resolution this year “have stated that they are going mail ballot for 2020 only,” said Rave, “and it’s because of the fear of not getting enough judges due to the pandemic.”

She said 18 election precincts in Hubbard County have requested mail ballots as of this year, in some cases a standing request going back two or more years. The other 20 precincts will continue to have in-person polling.

Representing more than 5,000 registered voters, the county’s mail ballot precincts include Akeley (since 2016), Arago (since 2018), Badoura (2020 only), Clay (since before 2016), Crow Wing Lake (2020 only), Helga (2020 only), Hendrickson (since before 2016), Lake Alice (since 2017), Lake Emma (2020 only), Mantrap (2020 only), Nevis (2020), Schoolcraft (2018), Steamboat River precincts 1 and 2 (both prior to 2016), Thorpe (prior to 2016) and White Oak Township (2018) as well as the cities of Laporte (prior to 2016) and Nevis (2020 only).

Rave said voters from townships that have mail ballots, if they choose to vote in person, may do so at the Hubbard County Courthouse, either on election day or during the early voting period. According to the office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, early in-person voting for the Aug. 11 primary election starts June 26; for the Nov. 2 general election, Sept. 18.

Rave cautioned that her office doesn’t know yet whether mail-in ballots will be available by the time early in-person voting starts. “It’s a little bit out of our control,” she said. “We’re working on our ballot order. … We proof every single ballot, and it’s very labor intensive, because it has to be accurate. Then we approve the ballot order, and our vendor mails out the ballots.”

Rave explained that her office outsources the mail ballots because they don’t have the staff to handle the bulk mailing.

“Once the voter receives the ballot and they vote it, then they mail it or bring it to the courthouse, and we collect those. Two trained election officials … accept or reject those, depending on whether they met the criteria. Did they sign it? Did they put in the last four digits of their Social Security number or write their driver’s license down, and did they put their home address in – not a P.O. Box. If they put a P.O. Box in, we’re going to reject it, because that’s the rule.

“And then, they have to have it witnessed. And did the witness put in their home address, or did they put a P.O. Box? So, a lot of these get rejected, and then we send them out a new ballot, explain to them what happened. So, it’s labor intensive.”

Rave acknowledged that they’ve heard from people who are “pretty mad” about the cost of the mail ballots charged to the townships, which has been the same since 2012.

“I have not changed it. I would like to decrease it,” she said. “However, it just hasn’t happened. … If the county picked up the cost of it, and some counties do, that would be great because, then, that township wouldn’t have to levy for it; it’d be on the county levy. But then, is it fair for some townships to be paying for that whereas other townships are (voting) in person?”

She said the $10.05 per ballot pays for the envelope, the ballot, the postage in both directions and staff time.

“We end up putting quite a bit of time, touching every single ballot,” said Rave. “Really, if you compare the cost of in-person (voting) to the cost of mail ballot, I think mail ballot is more expensive. However, what it really comes down to is, can you get judges? If you can’t get judges, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. You have to do something to make that election happen.”