With the number of COVID-19 cases spiking, the last thing most of us want to consider is piling into an enclosed room — even if it’s to vote. A healthier alternative is needed on Primary Day Aug. 11 and on Election Day Nov. 3.

Eligible Minnesota voters can breathe a sigh of relief that no-reason-necessary absentee voting has been an option here since 2013. Never will it be more needed or more taken advantage of than in the 2020 election

“Encouraging people to vote from home is to say, ‘Hey, look, don’t worry, even though this is a pandemic election, you don’t have to make that choice between your right to vote and your health,” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said in an exclusive interview this summer with the News Tribune Opinion page. “This is nothing new. This is nothing radical. This is what we’ve been doing here in Minnesota.”

Never like this year, though. Consider the first mid-May week when absentee ballots can be requested. In 2016, the secretary of state’s office received 88 such requests. In 2018 that number nearly doubled to 173. This year there were a staggering 36,880 first-week requests for absentee ballots.

Nearly a fourth of eligible Minnesota voters cast their ballots absentee two years ago. Expect that percentage to double, or more, this year.

And that’ll be good news for Minnesota’s 3,000 polling places and the 30,000 volunteers who work them. With $6.7 million from the federal government and a 20% $1.6 million match from the state (for a total of $8.3 million), Minnesota polling centers will be stocked with plenty of hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes for everything from tabletops to pens, and more to ensure safe voting. But fewer of Minnesota’s 3 million voters in the polling places, the result of more of those voters casting absentee ballots, will be equally important.

“It’s a public service. Every person that stays home and votes from home this year is making it safer for the people who do show up on Election Day, both the voters and the poll workers,” Simon said. “More and more people are realizing, hey, this is a good idea; better safe than sorry. We’re encouraging people to think about doing this for all the obvious reasons.”

It only takes a few minutes to apply for an absentee ballot at mnvotes.org. Once it comes in the mail, voters also can be encouraged to take their time filling out those ballots. A lot can happen between now and the primary and between now and Election Day. A lot of information and plenty of perspectives are to be published and put out there in the next several weeks, each detail and revelation demanding the careful consideration of a responsible electorate. There are important decisions to be made in this and every election. Deciding who advances from the primary and who is picked Election Day to represent us at every level of government isn't something to be done hastily.

As a cautionary reminder, recall the 1990 election for Minnesota governor. Republican nominee Jon Gronseth dropped out just nine days ahead of Election Day following allegations of nude swimming with young girls at a pool party at his residence. Consider, too, how just 11 days before Election Day in 2002 U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone perished in a plane crash near Eveleth.

Like just about everything else since March, this year’s election promises to be unique, unprecedented even.

Whether voting absentee or in-person, the duty of eligible voters to carefully consider the candidates and to cast informed ballots remains unchanged, however. Also unchanged is the responsibility of election workers — and, ultimately, Secretary of State Simon and his colleagues across the nation — to conduct an election with reliable, accurate results and an election that’s not only fair but doesn’t risk the health of its participants.