Minnesota's primary had few late or rejected mail ballots

A record number of Minnesotans are expected to vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general election. Already, more than a million absentee ballots have been requested. The early voting operation has drawn questions and criticism from some lawmakers, advocates and voters, with worries ranging to election security to whether their ballots will arrive by the deadline.

Data from the state's Aug. 11 primary might provide some reassurance on that last concern. Even with a surge in early voting, relatively few ballots arrived late or were otherwise rejected.

More than a half million Minnesotans voted early in the state primaries, accounting for nearly two-thirds of total ballots and tripling turnout. And despite concerns about United States Postal Service delays, most of those votes arrived before primary day, while about 8 percent were counted during this year’s two-day extension window.

For the general election, ballots have even more time to make their way through the postal system: Officials will count ballots postmarked by Nov. 3, as long as they arrive within seven days of the election.

So what else can the primary tell us about Minnesota's big absentee vote this year? Here's a look at several key data points from the Aug. 11 contest:

Some anecdotal evidence suggests Minnesotans are planning on making their choice early this year to insure their ballot gets in on time.

For the primary, accepted absentee and mail ballots flooded in at an increasing pace as Aug. 11 neared and through the extended arrival window.

Of the 555,400 mail ballots returned by voters, around 4,500 were rejected for arriving too late – less than 1 percent.

That's just over a third of total ballot rejections, which were slightly less common this year than in 2016 and 2018. Most reasons for rejection involved problems with signatures, dates or other issues properly filling a ballot out.

Only 80 ballots were rejected because the individual already voted, and 10 rejections were due to the person dying. About 8,000 ballots sent to voters were replacements.

While about a third of requested ballots sent to Minnesotans weren’t returned to election officials, that’s roughly the same non-return rate as in 2018’s primary. And not all of those are squandered voting opportunities, as some people simply request ballots and then vote early in-person or wait for Election Day instead.

Critics, including President Donald Trump, have publicly doubted the safety and validity of mail voting, while others have questioned the beleaguered Postal Service’s abilities to handle influxes of ballot requests and returns in a timely fashion.

While the winners of Minnesota's major primary races were clear on results night without delayed ballots tipping the scales, observers have warned uncertainty over the outcomes of November's contests may linger past Election Day.