The doors to the Minneapolis Early Voting Center swung open at 8 a.m. sharp Friday, signaling the start of early voting for Minnesota's March 3 presidential primary. Davis Senseman was in the front of the line. And that was by design.
Senseman, a self-described voting enthusiast, had been waiting outside the polling site for about 11 hours in hopes of casting one of the first ballots of the 2020 presidential election. The attorney, along with a handful of fellow Elizabeth Warren supporters, spent the night hunkered down in an RV in the parking lot, snacking on trail mix and playing rounds of Monopoly Deal before trying to get a few hours of rest. Four camping chairs sat outside the building to save their spots, in case other eager voters showed up before dawn.
"Minnesotans really like waiting in lines," Senseman joked while waiting in the center's vestibule as the sun rose Friday morning.
The deadline for voting is still over a month away. But the chance to participate in the state's first presidential primary since 1992 — and cast a ballot before first-in-the-nation contests have their say — was enough to motivate some voters to brave frigid temperatures and a looming snowstorm to show support for their candidate of choice.
"We can't afford to wait," said Sean Duckworth, a Joe Biden supporter who attended an early vote rally for a range of Democratic candidates in Ramsey County. "We need change now, and he's the person who is best able to do it, so I'm here to vote for him."
Votes in Minnesota won't be counted until after the polls close March 3. And some other states, including New Hampshire, have already started accepting absentee ballots for voters who can't make it out on Election Day. But Minnesota's election calendar and early voting laws mean the state can "confidently say we'll be the first state in the country to open up the presidential contest to all eligible voters," said Secretary of State Steve Simon.
With 15 candidates, including Minnesota's U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, on the Democratic ballot, some early voters said they hoped participating would generate enthusiasm for their candidate of choice.
"There's some kind of special magic to the idea of getting to be one of the first people to cast your vote," said Mitchell Walstad, a Warren supporter. "I thought it would be kind of fun, to go make a tweet out of it ... and have an opportunity to show my support and do it in a loud fashion."
In Duluth, City Council Member Arik Forsman joined a handful of Klobuchar supporters who showed up at City Hall right as early primary voting opened Friday morning.
"I think she has a really great track record in Minnesota of bridging that rural/urban divide," Forsman said.
In South St. Paul, two local officials showed up at the polling place early Friday to not only cast ballots for the primary but to symbolically mark the city's legacy as the first place in the U.S. where women voted after the 19th Amendment went into effect in 1920, officials said.
"It became clear to us that we may have an opportunity to be among the first in the nation to cast a ballot and so we thought it might be a nice tie-in with South St. Paul's 100th anniversary of women's suffrage," said Dakota County Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord.
For campaigns, the start of voting was an opportunity to rally supporters as the nominating contest gets underway. At a midday event at the University of Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar encouraged students to bring friends and classmates along to the polls to back Bernie Sanders in hopes of repeating the Vermont senator's 2016 Minnesota caucus win.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, hosted get-out-the-vote events across the state Friday. The senator joined top state Democrats, including Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, at an evening rally at First Avenue that drew about 200 people.
Klobuchar touted her expanded presence in early-voting states and well-received debate performances, saying she needs people "more than ever to get out the vote," because she will have to divvy her time campaigning in the coming weeks with impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate.
And even though there is no contest on the Republican side — the GOP primary ballot lists only Trump — organizers with Trump Victory planned to spend Saturday registering and reaching out to voters across Minnesota. "While Democrats fight it out to determine who can be the most radical, far-left candidate, Republicans across the state are energized and excited to show their support for President Donald Trump," Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said in a statement.
Three candidates on the Democratic ballot have already dropped out. And the field is likely to winnow further after the Iowa and New Hampshire contests in early February. With the race in flux, not all voters were ready to make a choice. Minneapolis resident Andrew Snyder said he decided to hold off on a presidential pick until after the early states vote.
"I'm trying to decide between Bernie and Liz, personally, so I want to see what happens in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada," he said.
Those who did turn out Friday said they hoped the show of support would inspire campaigns to spend more time and resources in the Super Tuesday state in the coming weeks. For Senseman, the effort is already showing dividends. Late Friday, the attorney got a call from the candidate herself.
"I just spoke with Senator Warren," Senseman wrote in an all-caps tweet. "She thanked me for my vote and said she would work to make my family proud every day and OMG."
Staff writers Erin Adler, Ryan Faircloth and Brooks Johnson contributed to this report. Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049