Despite a rare and heated Republican primary for governor, GOP voters in Minnesota remain reluctant to cast absentee ballots.
Nearly 40 percent of the already accepted absentee ballots came from DFL bastions and only 28 percent have come from GOP areas, according to a Star Tribune analysis of early ballots accepted by election officials as of Wednesday. Slightly more voters live in those GOP areas than in the DFL ones.
Overall, absentee ballots are down about 25 percent from 2010, despite the easing of restrictions on voting absentee and entreaties from GOP leaders and campaigns to vote early.
“I’ve always kind of wondered if Republicans view election day as more of a sacred thing,” said Kent Kaiser, who was communications director in the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office for eight years. Kaiser now is a professor of communications at University of Northwestern in St. Paul.
Kaiser said Republicans might not turn out in big numbers on Tuesday, either.
“I think people are saying these candidates are all acceptable,” he said.
Republican Jack Czwartacki said he voted absentee this year, but he has some qualms about it.
“I am, however, very concerned about my vote being counted at all, and the integrity of this way of casting ballots,” Czwartacki said. “I prefer the democratic ritual of everyone showing up together at their polling place on the appointed Tuesday … I took the lazy path.”
Like others who took advantage of new rules that don’t require voters to provide a reason for why they need to use an absentee ballot, he found the process easy and hassle-free.
“It was remarkably simple and seamless,” said Czwartacki.
As of mid-last week, voters in the heavily Republican Sixth Congressional District, which runs across the northern suburbs and exurbs all the way to St. Cloud, had only 1,211 absentee ballots accepted, the Star Tribune found. Two Republicans, former state Rep. Tom Emmer and Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, are vying to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. But Sixth District primary voters appear to be waiting for election day — the district had the lowest number of absentee ballots accepted anywhere in the state.
In Carver County, with about 95,500 residents, only 140 absentee ballots had come in by last week.
In the Seventh Congressional District’s Lyon County, 25,500 residents produced about the same number of ballots as Carver.
“If you would have told me that Carver County and Lyon County have the same amount of early voters five months ago, I would have said you’re insane. But … that’s the case,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert.
Seifert, who has pushed absentee voting hard on the stump, is vying against House Rep. Kurt Zellers, businessman Scott Honour and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson in Tuesday’s primary.
By Congressional District, the highest numbers of ballots returned by far come from the urban DFL strongholds in the Fourth and Fifth districts. Minnesota House districts across the Twin Cities also land in the top spots for ballots cast already.
One House primary has accounted for far more than any other race, the Star Tribune found. As of last week, more than 10 percent of accepted absentee ballots from across the state were generated in House District 60B, where longtime Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is facing off against Minneapolis School Board Member Mohamud Noor.
In that district, which includes areas near the University of Minnesota and East African population centers, voters have cast early ballots in droves. According to the Star Tribune analysis, nearly 1,500 ballots had already been counted for the brutal primary race between Noor and Kahn. No other House district — even those with competitive primaries — even comes close.
Noor has been particularly diligent about getting his supporters to cast ballots early.
One day last week, the first-term school board member personally took five people to Minneapolis City Hall to vote. The East African community honed its early voting strategy in Abdi Warsame’s successful campaign to be the first Somali-American elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 2013.
A Republican House primary will join the high-profile Democratic primary on the Tuesday ballots in that district. No matter who wins the primary, Democrats are favored to keep that seat in their control in November.