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DFL lawmakers push to offer paid time-off for early in-person voting

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Adding just over a dozen words to the state’s election statutes could help people more easily cast an absentee ballot in person.

Current law permits an employee to be absent from work without lost wages or other penalty for the needed time to vote on Election Day. However, the absence may not always be particularly practicable.

Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Mpls) has a potential solution.

She sponsors HF799 that would also permit such an absence for in-person absentee voting, which occurs at designated polling places, such as a county auditor’s office or a city hall, during the 46 days prior to an election.

Farah Habad, representing New Justice Project MN, testifies Feb. 1 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Esther Agbaje, right, that would allow persons to be absent from work to vote in-person before Election Day. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

Approved Wednesday by the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee via a split-voice vote, the bill’s next stop is the full House.

“Voting early in person has been a useful tool for Minnesotans to be able to exercise their civic duty during a timeframe that works best for them,” Agbaje said. “It’s useful for anyone, but especially for employees who may have a deadline, a major project or they’re travelling on or around Election Day. It can also be useful for busy parents who may not be able to get to the polls on Election Day but can find time during the early voting period.”

Supporters added this change could also help low-wage employees, who often have a tight schedule and may not be able to vote on Election Day.

Farah Habad, a member of New Justice Project MN, said the bill comes down to participation. “Do we want to be a people that allow for the marketplace of ideas to truly be tested by the largest possible arguments or do we want to be a society that constricts the question and constricts what it means to have access?”

House elections panel hears HF799 2/1/23

Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) noted employers can choose to voluntarily do this now.

“I really believe that within a 46-day period of voting that that’s ample amount of time for everyone to find an adequate amount of time to vote. … And this puts a burden on employers,” said Rep. Pam Altendorf (R-Red Wing).

But Rep. Kristi Pursell (DFL-Northfield) countered the change could help small-business owners.

“One particular day in November can be more challenging then the day before, the week before. From my own personal experience, to allow the flexibility for employers too, I think this really supports the businesses that want to do the right thing and let their people vote.”

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