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Secretary of state encourages Minnesotans to vote by mail

May 13, 2020 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon didn’t get his wish for a wholesale switch to mail-in balloting to make the upcoming elections safer during the coronavirus pandemic, but on Wednesday he encouraged Minnesotans to vote by mail anyway.

Simon urged eligible voters to go online to request absentee ballots for the Aug. 11 primary and Nov. 3 general election. The portal is already open at mnvotes.org.

“We need to treat the upcoming statewide elections as a public health issue,” Simon said in a statement. “To slow the spread of COVID-19, we need to reduce large gatherings, including at polling places.”

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An elections security bill was one of six measures that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed on Tuesday. The bill allows the state to tap $17 million in federal election security funds, as Simon had wanted, and it funds preparations for increased absentee voting, switching some polling places to safer locations, and public outreach for how to vote safely in an era of social distancing.

But Simon, Walz and the House Democratic majority didn’t get the big switch to mail-in voting that they sought. They hoped to avoid a repeat of the long lines and closed polling places due to a shortage of workers during Wisconsin’s statewide election last month. The Senate Republican majority blocked that idea, saying Minnesota’s rules, which already make it easy to cast absentee ballots by mail without providing an excuse, were sufficient. In turn, Senate Republicans dropped their proposal for a provisional balloting system that Democrats warned could suppress turnout.

Walz on Tuesday also signed a bill to extend a state COVID-19 relief fund that expired this week. Another bill he signed requires prescription drug manufacturers to publicize large price increases. One bill prohibits child marriages by setting the legal age for marriage at 18.

The Minnesota House on Wednesday passed and sent to the governor a bill banning the use of the industrial solvent trichloroethylene after June 1, 2022. Walz is expected to sign the bill that would make Minnesota the first state to ban TCE, which has been linked to birth defects and certain cancers. Pressure to eliminate its use in Minnesota began to build last year after regulators cited manufacturer Water Gremlin of White Bear Township for excessive emissions of the chemical. The company agreed to pay $7 million in fines and corrective actions.

The regular session of the Minnesota Legislature will adjourn Monday.