From the County Manager Column from Oct. 26, 2021

A week away from Election Day 2021

The 2020 general election was a historic one in Ramsey County. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of our residents voted than ever – nearly 300,000! Early voting reached unprecedented levels; registration was up for all age groups – especially young people, and we experienced major increases in the number of voters in areas that have traditionally experienced low turnout. Now, with Election Day just a week away, our Elections team is again putting in the long hours and building on successes from last year to administer a successful election in 2021.

Although it’s a local election this year, every resident across Ramsey County has at least one contest on the ballot – there are multiple school district races, three city council races, two mayoral contests, two referenda and a ballot question in Saint Paul. We’ll be opening 170 polling places across the county on Election Day and the elections team has recruited, trained and assigned some 1,300 judges – including 200 student judges – representing different political parties to administer elections fairly and consistently at each site.

Judges and voters at each polling place will continue following public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – including masking, distancing and sanitizing. As you can imagine, training each of our judges is a major effort and staff have been doing in-person and virtual sessions every night for the past five weeks. Dozens of Ramsey County employees also serve as judges – thanks to them and all our community members who serve to help make our elections go smoothly in Ramsey County.

Voting begins well ahead of Election Day though and since Sept. 17, the Elections Office at our Plato location has been processing mailed ballots and assisting voters in person on-site. Also today, we opened four additional sites across the county. Based on comparative elections since 2017, we expect about 80% of our early voting (also known as "absentee") to occur this week and we provide updates each day on our open data portal. It’s important to note that although early ballots are accepted and processed, no results are tallied until the polls close election night.

Every election night, it’s an exciting atmosphere at our Elections Office as head judges from those 170 polling locations return ballots and materials to be processed and counted. One improvement that worked well last year and will be used again this year is a drive-up outdoor operation where our staff securely receive, spot-audit and process materials from each site. In addition to preventing the possible spread of COVID-19 by significantly reducing multiple person-to-person contacts, this process has proved very efficient and speedy. Thanks to Property Management and sheriff’s deputies and others who help make this go so smoothly.

Ramsey County voters can rest assured that the administration of our elections is extremely secure. Advised by the Department of Homeland Security, the Elections team and Information Services have been working closely together on physical and cybersecurity measures over the past several years and continually stay abreast of any threats and improve our operations. As with all things, additional security comes with a cost – because our system is not networked to the internet, every elections cycle it does take a bit longer than some other jurisdictions for us to upload and report results through the Secretary of State’s website.

Learn how we compile results on Election night

Other successes the Elections team continue to build on this year include expanding our investment in community engagement. We are contracting with 19 community partners to help us assist voters and residents with information and training. Additionally, navigators at our Service Centers have also been trained to assist with voter questions and registration, as well as processing drop-off ballots. These efforts help to ensure that we are providing all voters across the county with options, information and assistance.

Workplace policies

As employees in public service, we do our work in an ethical, respectful and strictly nonpartisan manner. Approaching Election Day, I’d encourage all employees to brush up on our policy regarding political activity at work. It’s straightforward and commonsense – for instance, we don’t display materials about candidates or issues – including in virtual spaces like Teams or Zoom, or engage in political activity during work hours.

Read the political activity policy on RamseyNet

Also, all Minnesota voters have the right to take paid time off to vote and are not required to use personal leave or vacation time. Please inform your supervisor if your schedule will change due to voting.

Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and we are proud to hold the responsibility to administer elections for voters throughout the communities of Ramsey County – from Saint Paul to White Bear Township. Kudos to our Elections division and partners for their leadership, long hours and commitment to continuous improvement that ensures our transparent, efficient elections in Ramsey County remain a model across the state and nation.