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COMMENTARY: Voting is truly the heart of our democracy

Once again, it’s election season across the country. The general election will be held on Nov. 8. and here in northwest Minnesota, we have a lot to consider before we go vote.

102222.OP.BP.VOTINGCOMMENTARY
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Once again, it’s election season across the country. The general election will be held on Nov. 8. and here in northwest Minnesota, we have a lot to consider before we go vote.

You have questions like: How do I register to vote? When do I vote? and What am I going to see on the ballot? Wherever you are in the state of Minnesota, the go-to place for the most accurate information is (ahem) not Facebook or TikTok. It is the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting.

Register to vote

To vote in Minnesota elections, whether it’s for school board or U.S. House of Representatives, a voter must be 18 years of age or older, a U.S. Citizen, a resident of Minnesota for 20 days or more prior to the election and must have completed all parts of any felony sentence.

If you are not sure if you are currently registered, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website has a search feature to check your status. From there, you can use the Polling Place Finder to see where to vote and which races (e.g. congressional, state house, state senate, judicial, county) you may vote on.

College students are eligible to vote based on their primary address or the address at which they live during their school year. Either way, it may require the student to update their existing voter registration to their preferred voting location or request an absentee ballot if already registered and wishing to vote by mail. Voters cannot register to vote in more than one state or locality.

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Voters can register to vote in several ways. The easiest may be to register online at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website. For this online process, voters will need a valid email address, and valid Minnesota driver’s license or Minnesota identification card.

Otherwise, voters can register using the paper application from the website, register at their county elections office prior to Election Day or in person at their polling location on Election Day.

To register, voters will need a valid Minnesota driver’s license, learner’s permit or ID, or tribal identification card with name, address, photo and signature.

Voters will also need one document that shows their name and address, such as a bill for utilities, bank, rent or mortgage, residential lease, or current student fee statement. These supporting documents must be dated within 30 days of Election Day.

This is not a complete list of requirements for voter registration, so please visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website for more information.

When is a good time to vote?

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, which is the time to vote in person at your polling location. It is also an important date for absentee voting if voting in person is a challenge.

Voters may request an absentee ballot from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website any day before Election Day. The completed ballot must be returned by Election Day. Absentee ballots will not count if they are received after Election Day, so plan ahead for delivery times.

Absentee ballots can be returned by 3 p.m. on Election Day to the office that sent it, not your polling place. Additionally, the absentee ballot cannot be dropped off in a ballot drop box on Election Day.

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The simple rule is if you cannot vote in person on Election Day, consider voting absentee and send in your completed ballot at least a few days before Election Day. Be sure to follow the directions on your absentee ballot and sign where necessary to ensure your vote gets counted.

Aside from absentee voting, people can also vote early in person at their local county elections office. For me, I like to vote on Election Day with my neighbors at my local polling place, but I usually vote early in person at my county election office ahead of time for convenience.

What’s on the ballot?

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s website also provides a sample ballot specific to your district. In my case, there are the typical races and nothing too unusual, but this year a whole bunch of school district candidates are on my ballot.

That means I will have to learn more about each candidate and their priorities, and the information is not always easy to find. Regardless of the election race, voters should do their best to visit the candidates’ websites, read their brochures, attend candidate information sessions or reach out and connect directly with candidates to hear from them about the issues they care about the most.

Our civic duty

Voting for our representatives is truly the heart of our democracy. At the state level, every position from the governor to the senate to the house is up for election this year.

At the local level, voters get to choose their sheriff, county board, school district, soil and water conservation board, and possibly local referendum. Judicial positions are also on the ballot.

Election Day gives us, the people, a huge opportunity to determine the future of our communities. I encourage everyone who can to get registered and go vote. You will be glad you did.

Nate Dorr, Bemidji, is the vice president for advocacy at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

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