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Minnesotans started casting ballots Friday as early voting kicked off just over six weeks before the Nov. 6 election, in what officials predict will be a year of high turnout.

Minnesota is one of a handful of states that began early voting Friday, among the first ballots cast in the country. Much is at stake in Minnesota’s midterm election, 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 Friday, 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, with 58,108 new voters registering so far this year — two-thirds of whom are 18 to 30 years old. That’s more than double the number of new voter registrations in 2014, the last midterm election.

Another possible indicator of high turnout this year: the state’s Aug. 14 primary election drew the highest primary turnout since 1994, with about 23 percent of eligible voters participating. Many in the primary voted by absentee ballots either from home or at polling places — an option that started in Minnesota in 2014. In fact, there were more than double the number of absentee ballots compared to 2016. However, most voters still opted to go to the polls on Election Day, with early voting accounting for 16 percent of voters.

But this year, Minneapolis Assistant City Clerk Grace Wachlarowicz said she expects a higher percentage of people to vote early in the election. She pointed to the 2016 presidential election, in which 25 percent of voters did so via early absentee ballots.

“We’re treating this like a presidential election, not a midterm,” she said. “We’re anticipating an increase in voters.”

That increase could be from people like Jim Magnuson, 61, of Minneapolis, a retired post office worker who cast his first midterm ballot Friday at the Hennepin County Government Center.

“It’s time for a change,” he said. “Some of them have been in too long.”

On Friday, Ramsey County mailed out about 8,000 absentee ballots while Hennepin County mailed out almost 25,000 ballots to residents who requested them — the most sent out on the first day since no-excuse absentee voting began — including more than 10,000 ballots in Minneapolis alone, a 130 percent increase from ballots sent out in 2014.

On the blustery cool day, there was thin turnout at polling places in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, perhaps an indication that more people want to vote from the comfort of their home, vote on Election Day or are still undecided. But that meant no waiting to vote.

“No lines and it’s super easy,” said Davis Senseman, 42, an attorney who voted at Minneapolis’ Early Vote Center. “It’s 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 retiree from Minneapolis, was about to leave for an overseas vacation and said she was grateful she could vote early.

“I’m proud of how Minnesota makes it easier for us,” she said. “This is too important. It’s time to step up.”

Curt Miska, 69, of Minneapolis was also headed out of town and stopped to cast his vote early. “I’m not happy the direction the country is going,” he said.

With 45 days before the election, Minnesota voters still have plenty of time to cast their vote early or vote on Election Day. For more details about where or how to vote early, 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 also produced a voter guide on major candidates and where they stand on key issues. Go to strib.mn/2xugkkg to view the guide.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

How to vote early

Starting Friday through Nov. 5, Minnesota voters can cast their ballots early.

Vote early by mail: Request an absentee ballot online at mnvotes.org and mail it, e-mail or fax it to your county election office.

Vote early in person: Vote at your county election office. Some cities and service centers also offer in-person absentee voting.