Daniel Bultman made sure his busy Friday morning included a trip to Minneapolis’ Elections & Voter Services offices in Northeast.
“It’s so important for me to do this,” said Bultman, 64. He had concerns about mailing his ballot so he made his way through the line in 20 minutes to cast his vote.
Bultman is one of more than 911,385 people in Minnesota who have voted in the general election. With more than two weeks before Election Day, the votes accepted in Minnesota already far surpass the total number of absentee ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.
In Hennepin County, more than a third of registered voters have already voted, either by mail or at an early voting center.
The turnout is similar across the country, where the coronavirus pandemic and a momentous presidential race are drawing scores to place their votes before November. To those standing in line in the Twin Cities on Friday, where the temperature was just a few degrees above freezing, their early vote brought something a little more instantaneous: peace of mind.
Despite continued reassurances from election officials that the U.S. Postal Service is prepared to handle the surge of ballots, Bultman was among the early voters who felt it was more secure to do it in person.
So was Zeke Polken, who at 22 was voting in his second presidential election.
Polken had received his mail-in ballot at his apartment the previous day and filled it out that night.
“I wanted to make sure that I could actively put it in somewhere,” he said outside the center. “Get it all settled, fill it out and then just drop it in and say, ‘I did that.’ ”
The vote was an important form of expression for the Clay family in Lowry Hill.
“For me, 2016 was just such a horrible experience that I’ve been wanting to cast this vote ever since,” said Steve Clay, who along with his wife and son voted for Joe Biden. “It just feels like there’s a lot of urgency to get this done.”
The family took a selfie as they entered the center and another once they exited.
Still, 77% of the 285,000 ballots that have been accepted in Hennepin County were sent by mail, said Ginny Gelms, the county’s elections manager.
She has reminded people that they can check whether their ballot was received and counted through the Secretary of State’s website.
Like the scene in northeast Minneapolis, the line of early voters wrapped around the Ramsey County Library in Roseville. With hands in their pockets and heads covered in beanies and masks, voters waited to enter the library, which the county’s elections team had occupied since September.
More than 100,385 people have voted early in Ramsey County, nearly 30% of all registered voters.
Merrie Zakaras, the elections judge at the library location, said an average of 340 people are voting there each day.
“The line hasn’t stopped since Sept. 18,” said Zakaras, who has helped run elections for 25 years. “There hasn’t been a break where there hasn’t been a voter in line.”
Her team was expecting the turnout, she said; the Roseville library is surrounded by major highways, bringing in people from North and South St. Paul, White Bear Lake and other suburbs.
They erected tents for people to stand under, posted election officials to monitor the line and expanded into the teen section to give voters more space.
Then, Zakaras jumped into action. The state’s voter registration system had given out, and people needed ballots brought to them outside.
Hennepin and Ramsey counties will begin counting ballots next week.
They will also open up more early voting centers Oct. 27, expecting the pace to only pick up.
“I wouldn’t be the first person to say: This election is unlike any we’ve ever seen before,” Gelms said. “We don’t have any historical precedent to compare it to.”
More than 40 people stood outside the Roseville library Friday as slushy flakes sporadically dropped from the sky. Emily Smith and her daughter Iris emerged from the library clutching her “I Voted” sticker.
Smith had requested a mail-in ballot but was nervous about putting it in the mail. So she went over to the library and dropped it off. It took about five minutes.
Her daughter, who was worried there would be long lines on voting day, had done the same a few days ago.
“I just wanted to make sure that there would be no dispute and that I could see it counted,” Emily Smith said.
She had tried dropping it off at the library the previous day. The line was even longer then.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753