A Crow Wing County resident Tuesday raised concerns about whether a barcode on his ballot could contain identifying information. Charlie Makidon of Gail Lake Township told the county board during open forum he believes the primary election ballot he received by mail is “marked” by a QR code printed at the bottom. “To 99 percent of the people, this is a marked ballot,” Makidon said. “What does the code say? Does it say, ‘Republican, throw it away?’ Does it say, ‘Democrat, count twice?'” Makidon said he called the county Monday for more information on the code, which is a type of machine-readable barcode that can store website URLs, phone numbers, email addresses and other alphanumeric data. The codes have proliferated in recent years, along with smartphone apps allowing users to acquire the information they contain. An employee in the administrative services office first directed Makidon to call the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, who then redirected Makidon back to Crow Wing County. Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson, whose office is in charge of elections in the county, called Makidon to discuss the matter. Erickson told Makidon the employee had erred in directing him to the secretary of state’s office.
The code, Erickson told the board, is a numerical voting precinct identifier, assigned to indicate the ballot style required for that precinct. Although this is the first year a QR code specifically was used for the precinct identifier, Erickson said a state rule requires optically scanned ballots to include an electronically readable identifier. “These ballots have always had this identifier, in a different way,” Erickson said. “It wasn’t this visible QR code as you see here.”
Erickson said the use of the code came as part of contracting with the specific vendor the county is using for mailing its ballots. The code allows the vendor’s mailing machine to read and sort the ballots to determine their destinations. In 16 of Crow Wing County’s 64 voter precincts—including Gail Lake Township, where Makidon lives—voting is done exclusively by mail. This translates to about 5,000 voters.
“In order for us to be the most efficient, make sure our accuracy is correct of getting the right ballots to the right voters, we contracted with a vendor to do that initial mailing for us this year,” Erickson said.