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Senate District 11 candidates call for action over mail-in ballots

Jason Rarick (left) and Stu Lourey

Even candidate Stu Lourey hadn't received his mail-in ballot at his residence in Kerrick, Minn. as of last Thursday.

Lourey is one of 3,000-plus registered voters in mail-in precincts in Senate District 11. He's also vying in Tuesday's special election to fill the vacant state Senate seat as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee. Lourey is joined on the ballot by Republican Jason Rarick and Legal Marijuana Now candidate John Birrenbach.

Having not received his ballot in timely fashion, Lourey instead voted at his local courthouse to cover for what has been an issue throughout the special-election process.

More than 400 mail-in ballots arrived late and were not counted during the primary in January. The United States Postal Service, slowed by years of cuts, coupled with a truncated special-election timeline resulted in ballots arriving after votes had been counted and the election verified.

The News Tribune reported last week that as many mail-in ballots or more were at risk to miss the count again on Tuesday.

"It's really disappointing and absolutely something we need to address in statute," Lourey said. "It's fundamentally not fair for these mail-in precincts."

Senate District 11 features Carlton and Pine counties and small parts of St. Louis and Kanabec counties. Only Carlton and Pine counties have mail-in precincts within the district — 27 total.

Rarick, a state representative for the Pine City area, noted that the mail-day canceled last week during the polar vortex will only further hurt voters' chances to return mail-in ballots on time.

"We thought we were good with maybe an extra day or two," Rarick said, comparing the general election to the hurried primary. "After the primary, I was over and already had a conversation with Steve Simon, secretary of state, about what we might be able to do. We're looking at legislation — to extend the timeframe (for special elections), especially if you've got mail-in ballot precincts. We need to make sure everybody's vote can get counted."

Simon agreed in a statement last week to tackle the problem.

For now, voters who have mailed in their ballots, but worry the ballots won't arrive in time, can still vote at their county courthouse. County auditors confirmed last week that a voter doesn't risk canceling their own vote. Rather, the mail-in ballot would be nullified upon arrival if a person decided to also vote in person at their local courthouse.

"Making sure every voice is heard — that's basic," Lourey said.

Roughly 10 percent of the district's 45,950 registered voters took part in the primary — a sorry number that Lourey and Rarick have been busy addressing by running weeks of furious door-knocking and media campaigns. The same door can be knocked upon multiple times in a day. Mailers, in particular, have been arriving to households at a swift pace, sometimes many for the same candidate in a single day.

It was reported last week that the major party campaigns were working with more than $110,000 in campaign donations. Untold more dollars were being spent by outside groups. The Republicans hold a narrow majority the state Senate — one that could be slimmed to a single vote depending on the outcome of the special election.

Rarick hoped the campaign blitz would help increase voter participation during the general election. But he wondered about voter fatigue.

"Not everybody is paying attention," Rarick said. "With how many races and time and money was spent in the November election, we were worried voters just weren't going to care about this one. We're still finding people who haven't heard about it. Just getting our information out is important. That's been our main focus."

Platform-wise, Rarick and Lourey appear to be archetypes of their parties' designs. Rarick has been talking about "protecting life" in the face of late-term abortion measures appearing around the country, and said he will "always defend Second Amendment rights."

He also shared his view from inside the state capitol, where he was appreciative of bipartisan work being done.

"There are many things that both sides are actually agreeing on — including tax conformity and funding transportation," Rarick said.

Lourey has been pushing hard on affordable health care.

"No matter where I go, people are most eager to talk about the price for prescription drugs," he said. "It's striking how many people bring it up, insulin in particular. They're eager to see action. They want their vote to deliver solutions that will help families."

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