Hundreds of DFL voters disenfranchised in Senate district 11 primary

What if the very system so-called voting rights activists instituted to take the inconvenience out of voting in person at the polls in fact ended up disenfranchising hundreds of voters instead? That’s one potential take-away from the fiasco that resulted in the disenfranchisement of hundreds of voters who mailed in ballots in the recent DFL special Senate primary, only to discover their votes didn’t count.

The ballots arrived too late to be included in the tally, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

More than 400 mail-in ballots went uncounted in the special election primary in Senate District 11 earlier this month. The ballots were returned following the Jan. 22 primary and arrived too late to be counted.

Most of the late ballots came in Carlton County, where 250 ballots arrived Friday — days after the election, said Auditor Paul Gassert, who added that ballots continued to trickle in Monday with 12 more.

“If I’m a voter,” Gassert said, “it’s frustrating.”

Winning candidate Stu Lourey’s margin of victory of 233 votes was well within the total number of ballots that were left unopened and uncounted. In fact, voters continue to be disenfranchised daily as more mail-in ballots trickle in.

Senate District 11 serves Carlton and Pine counties as well as small parts of St. Louis and Kanabec counties. Only Carlton and Pine counties feature mail-ballot precincts in the district, totaling slightly more than 3,000 registered mail-in voters. Mail-in balloting has become a popular mechanism throughout the state for some of its rural-most areas.

In the case of the Senate District 11 special election, Carlton County, in particular, struggled to get out the primary ballots following the Gov. Dayton order. Supplies that had dwindled following the November midterms had to be replenished in short order, Gassert said. There was also no mail delivery on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which fell the day before the primary and slowed the return of ballots.

Yet Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon’s office appeared to downplay the clear cut case of hundreds of Minnesotans whose votes didn’t count and may well have swung the outcome of the primary election.

“The truncated timeline for the special election in Senate District 11 is a challenge for election administrators and county auditors to get (mail-in) ballots out and get them back,” said spokesman Ben Petok of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.

Maybe mailing it in when it comes to voting isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. In fact, local election officials warn it could be deja vu all over again in the special election in Senate District 11 coming up on February 5.