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Reducing confusion over absentee and sample ballots is goal of bill

During recent election cycles, it’s common for voters across the state to daily receive multiple absentee ballot applications from various organizations or sample ballots in their mail.

And that has left many Minnesotans confused.

“Yes, we’ve gotten to the point where we have to remind people this is not an actual ballot,” said Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia).

He sponsors HF1186 that, as amended, would require committees and private organizations that mail an absentee ballot application or a sample ballot to clearly indicate:

  • the mailing is not an official government communication;
  • the application or sample ballot hasn’t been included at the request of a government official; and
  • an enclosed sample ballot is not an official ballot to be cast by the voter.

“I think the best thing we can possibly do is on the outside of the envelope say this is not an actual ballot and on the potential interior contents,” Nash said. “And, if there’s a sample ballot, say this is not an actual ballot.”

The bill was held over Wednesday by the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The provision was in last year’s omnibus elections bill that failed to become law.

Nash said election administrators have voiced support. The Minnesota Association of County Officers, Association of Minnesota Counties and League of Minnesota Cities jointly provided a letter supporting the bill.

“The high volume of absentee ballot applications and sample ballots mailed to voters from committees and other private organizations often causes confusion and even anger in voters when they are led to believe that the communication is officially from a unit of government.

“Voter confusion and/or anger as a result of receiving multiple absentee ballot applications or sample ballots that are perceived to be official can result in a voter questioning why they have inefficiently received multiple communications from local units of government and wondering if there is a flaw in the election administration process.”

Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL-Maple Grove) suggested prescriptive verbiage be created for consistency purposes; Rep. Pam Altendorf (R-Red Wing) suggested a watermark across a sample ballot.

Nash would not rule either out, saying he is open to any ideas that reduce voter confusion. “This is one of those problems that we all experience, and this is for the good of the order.”

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