Who won? The answer for Election 2020 may take longer than you think

A court order in June will allow Minnesota absentee ballots to be counted days after polling.

2020 election stock photo.jpg

Election 2020 continues Tuesday with statewide primaries, and one thing voters will need to get used to is how results could be slower arriving than in the past — possibly days later in the event of a close race.

“Elections in 2020 are going to be different than people expect,” said Risikat Adesaogun, spokesperson for the Minnesota secretary of state’s office.

The primary will allow absentee ballots to arrive up to two days later, and the Nov. 3 general election will feature a seven-day post-election window for absentee votes.

Both are the result of a court order in June which will allow late-arriving absentee ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on or before election day and received the day before canvassing.

“Because of this, there may be additions to election totals after election night,” Adesaogun said.


The News Tribune spoke with local election officials and candidates about the changing dynamic of elections, and what it could mean locally.

For Phil Chapman, St. Louis County director of elections, preliminary results on election night figure to stand up well.

“If past history is any indication, we don’t receive a lot of absentee ballots late,” he said. “We’ve found that most people get their absentee votes done pretty quickly, so we don’t anticipate a huge influx.”

Through Thursday morning, the county had received a primary record 10,634 absentee ballots — the result of a push to have voters choose absentee balloting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of that total, more than 6,000 belonged to voters in the city of Duluth, where City Clerk Chelsea Helmer remained a bit more cautious than her counterpart Chapman.

“I do think voters need to reset their expectations,” Helmer said. “You may not have that immediate gratification shortly after the polls close.”

Helmer described how it’s ingrained in American politics to track the races on election night. Like Chapman, she added that voters seem to be getting their absentee ballots back quickly.

Absentee voters who are taking their time can track their ballots to ensure their arrival prior to final count the day before Friday’s canvassing. The web address is: .


“We encourage folks to check that,” Helmer said.

Voters who fear their absentee ballots won’t arrive in time can also vote at the polls, where election judges communicate with election officials to then spoil those voters' late-arriving absentee ballots.

“We won’t accept ballots marked as spoiled,” Helmer said, describing the process as "a massive logistical puzzle.”

For Ashley Grimm, running for the 3rd District western Duluth seat on the St. Louis County Board, the increase in absentee voting and change in results tabulating means a couple things. One, she had to start reaching out to voters sooner than normal since many voters were completing their choices sooner.

Also, “the difficult part of drawn-out election results is that we won't be able to have the typical team gathering where, win or lose, we celebrate the results of what we've built together on election night,” she said.

Joe Macor and Eric Erkkila are also running for the 3rd District seat, which will be whittled from three to two candidates next week.

Macor said that “I have already voted” is one of the things he’s heard most often on the campaign trail.

“It will be interesting if races are close to possibly need to wait several days before knowing who won,” Macor said.


One thing the voters and election officials can count on in a new-look primary is the local United States Postal Service, Chapman concluded.

“We’ve had a commitment from the post office that when they see an absentee ballot, it’s high priority for them,” Chapman said. “The post office understands the importance of the election.”

According to a city of Duluth news release Thursday, ballots can be delivered to City Hall between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday. City Hall will also be open for live early voting during those same times. On Election Day, ballots can be hand-delivered to City Hall until 3 p.m. Absentee ballots cannot be returned to precincts.

Finally, for the legion of voters that want to have an idea of which candidates won or lost, preliminary results will continue to be tallied throughout election night, following the closing of polls at 8 p.m.

The secretary of state's office issued the following expectations for those who like to track results on the official website at : "Election results will be available starting at 8 p.m. election night, updated approximately every 10 minutes. On election night, files of summary results will be available by county or district. Files of precinct results will be available starting the morning after election day."

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.