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Watonwan County sees huge rise in mail-in ballots from 2016

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

As the 2020 election nears, early voting numbers for Watonwan County have already tripled the number of early voting ballots sent out in all of 2016.

As of Monday night's totals, St. James Ward 1 had 347 ballots sent and 261 returned ballots. St James Ward 2 had 319 sent and 240 returned. The city of Madelia had 339 sent and 270 returned. South Branch Township had 24 sent and 19 returned.

Mail ballot precincts have returned 1,415 of 2,434 mailed ballots.

In the 2020 general election, 1,083 early/absentee ballots were transmitted, and 817 were accepted. In 2016, only 463 early voting ballots were sent out, and 445 were accepted.

"The presidential election always has a higher turnout for voters, but we're already seeing a lot of absentee ballots being returned," said Watonwan County Auditor/Treasurer Kelly Pauling.

In 2018, 521 mail-in ballots were sent out, and 444 were returned. With the number of ballots already sent in, Pauling projects a slow day at the polling sites.

"I think it'll be slower at the polling places," said Pauling. "But we have large open buildings so it's safe to go there and vote. They're taking extra precautions for the safety of the voters and they have everything spread out, but I don't think it will be as busy in other years."

"They are prepared for large amounts of people, but our precincts aren't that big. St. James city wards one and two have about 1,000 registered voters apiece. The city of Madelia also has about 1,000. South Branch must be around 200 registered voters."

In order to prepare for next Tuesday’s election, the county has received cleaning supplies and PPE from the state that can be worn by election officials. Alcohol wipes have been bought for the voting machine and assisted voting devices. Watonwan County also purchased glass barriers with CARES funds to keep workers and voters separate.

New voting booths with hardbacks were also purchased with CARES funding.

The county has received cleaning supplies and PPE from the state that can be worn by election officials. Alcohol wipes have been bought for the voting machine and assisted voting devices. Pens will also not be reused.

Polls open on Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.