Every state has its own laws and jargon regarding elections and this makes it really confusing!
When some people talk about voting by mail, they are talking about how elections are run in states like Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii. In these states, voters essentially pre-register to vote in advance of Election Day. Pre-registered voters are then automatically mailed a ballot for each election which they then return via mail or drop box. In Minnesota, there are some mail balloting precincts outside of the Twin Cities area that have been voting this way since it was approved by the MN State Legislature in 1987. However, most people in Minnesota who talk about voting by mail are talking about casting an absentee ballot by mail.
Minnesota voters who wish to cast an absentee ballot can do without providing a reason. To have an absentee ballot mailed to you, a voter needs to complete and submit an absentee ballot application - either on-line or via paper application. In New Brighton, Absentee Ballot Applications are received and processed by Ramsey County Elections. Once your absentee ballot application is processed and verified in the Statewide Voter Registration System, a ballot will be mailed to your home along with instructions, a Manilla secrecy envelope to keep your ballot private, a bar-coded signature envelope for you to certify that you are the person using the ballot, and a return envelope to keep the personal information on your signature envelope private when you mail it back. You can return your absentee ballot by mail or you can drop it off at an early vote center during voting hours. (See question above for locations and times.)
Voters who wish to cast an absentee ballot but do not want to conduct this process through the mail, can complete the entire process in person during the absentee / early voting hours at an absentee/ early voting center. (See question above for locations and times.)
Like on Election Day, voters who need to update their voter registration records can do this at the same time they cast an absentee ballot and, like Election Day, voters updating their voter registration when they cast their ballot need to provide proof of residency in the precinct in order for their ballot to be accepted.
It is true that you are voting early no matter when you cast your ballot in the 46 days prior to Election Day. However, many people who talk about Early Voting in Minnesota are referring to a process that allows voters to cast their ballot in person at an early voting center in the seven (7) days before Election Day. Instead of placing their ballot into a series of envelopes like traditional absentee voting requires, the voter may place their ballot directly into a ballot counter just like they would do on Election Day. Minnesota state law permits this type of early voting only in the seven (7) days before Election Day.