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Nearly 1.2 million Minnesotans have already voted

By David H. Montgomery, Minnesota Public Radio News

At the current unprecedented rate, Minnesota is on pace to see well over 1.5 million early votes by Election Day. That’s more than half the total turnout in the 2016 presidential election.

As of Oct. 23, nearly 1.2 million Minnesotans had submitted their absentee ballots, and had them accepted by elections officials. Another 578,000 had requested an absentee ballot but had not yet received one.

Four years ago, just 676,000 Minnesotans voted via absentee ballot. Public health officials, election officials and Democratic campaigns have all encouraged absentee balloting, citing the need for social distancing during an escalating COVID-19 outbreak. Campaigns also normally like early voting because once a potential supporter has voted, the campaigns can stop spending resources to persuade or turn out that voter, and focus their resources on those who haven’t yet voted.

President Donald Trump and other Republicans have sent mixed messages about absentee balloting this year, encouraging their own supporters to do so, but also loudly warning that absentee balloting could lead to fraud. A recent poll by MPR News, Star Tribune and KARE 11 found more than half of Minnesota Democrats planned on voting early, compared to around 20 percent of Republicans.

That shows up in the statistics about where early votes are coming from. In DFL strongholds such as Hennepin and Ramsey counties, more than 40 percent of registered voters have already cast a ballot. That compares to about 20 percent of voters in Republican strongholds such as Wright and Sherburne counties.

Under Minnesota law, absentee ballots this year must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and will be counted if they arrive at county election offices by Nov. 10.

At current rates, early voting this year could near 60 percent of total 2016 turnout — though that could change if rates of early voting either accelerate or slow down as Election Day approaches.

Not everyone who requests an absentee ballot ends up submitting it. Some never vote, while others end up voting in person.

In the counties with the heaviest rates of absentee balloting, total early voting could close in on 80 percent of 2016 totals. Other counties are on track for considerably lower shares, closer to 40 percent.

Overall, the share of Minnesota voters to request absentee ballots ranges from a low of 20.1 percent in Todd and Lincoln counties to a high of 92.2 percent in Cook County.