Minnesotans head to the polls for start of early voting

September 21, 2018

Minnesotans started casting their ballots Friday for the Nov. 6 election as early voting kicked off statewide, in what officials predict will be a high turnout year.

Minnesota is in a handful of states that began early voting Friday, among the first ballots in the country. Much is at stake in Minnesota, with several hotly contested congressional races, the open race for governor and control of the Legislature up for grabs.

I think all the races are key this year, said Barry Clegg, 65, of Minneapolis, a lawyer who cast his ballot at the citys early voting center Friday morning, before grabbing a scooter to ride back to work. I think it will be a much higher turnout than usual.

Election officials agree, pointing to a surge in new voter registrations in Minnesota so far this year, with more than 52,000 new voters registering two-thirds of whom are 18 to 30 years old and more than double the number of new voter registrations in 2014.

Also, the states Aug. 14 primary election drew the highest primary turnout since 1994, with about 23 percent of eligible voters participating. Many in the primary voted early via absentee ballots either from their home or at polling places an option that started in Minnesota in 2014. In fact, there were more than double the number of early voters compared to 2016.

That still only accounts for 16 percent of voters, with most voters opting to cast ballots on Election Day.

But Minneapolis Assistant City Clerk Grace Wachlarowicz said she expects a higher percentage of people to vote early vs. on Election Day in this years midterm. She pointed to the 2016 presidential election, where 25 percent of voters cast their votes by early absentee ballots.

Were treating this like a presidential election, not a midterm, she said of increasing the number of polling place volunteers. Were anticipating an increase in voters.

The city mailed out more than 9,000 absentee ballots Friday morning, 25 percent more than in the 2016 presidential election, Wachlarowicz said. But on a blustery Friday morning, only about a dozen people showed up to Minneapolis Early Vote Center in the first two hours, with Wachlarowicz guessing that the weather could be partly to blame, with temperatures in the 50s.

No lines and its super easy, said Davis Senseman, 42, an attorney who has always voted early since it became an option in Minnesota, and turned out Friday to cast votes for Democrats in races big and small from the governors race to judges and the Hennepin County Board. Its important for me to get the country and state back to the values of where most people are. It was an exciting ballot.

Nancy Gardner, a Minneapolis retiree, was about to leave for an overseas vacation and said she was grateful for the early voting option.

Im proud of how Minnesota makes it easier for us, she said, adding that she doesnt always vote in midterm elections but had to cast her ballot for Democrats in hopes of flipping control of the state House and Senate. This is too important. Its time to step up.

Curt Miska, 69, of Minneapolis was also headed out of town and stopped to cast his vote early for candidates like U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, the Democratic candidate for governor. Im not happy the direction the country is going, he said.

For more details about where or how to vote early by absentee voting, go to mnvotes.org. Voters who cast ballots early can change their minds and ask to have their ballot spoiled up to seven days before the election.

The Star Tribune has produced a voters guide on the major candidates and where they stand on key issues.

Kelly Smith 612-673-4141

Update hourly