Minnesota voters turned on, and turn out

State numbers could exceed 3 million as many first-time voters go to polls. That 80 percent rate would keep Minnesota's No. 1 national ranking.

After waiting in line to vote for more than one hour Natascha Plouffe, chased her son Mason Schmugge, 2, as he hid under a voting sign at Minneapolis Urban League.

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Minnesota voters swarmed to the polls Tuesday in numbers that were expected to set a new record for state voter turnout.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said total voter turnout could surpass 3 million of the state's 3.7 million eligible voters. The largest previous turnout was 2.8 million in 2004.

"It looks like we're going to reach the goal we set of 80 percent of eligible voters, and that will keep us number one in the country," Ritchie said.

The largest percent turnout in Minnesota voting history was 83 percent in 1956.

At several Minneapolis precincts, voting continued after 8 p.m. because voters were still in line when polls closed.

"It went incredibly well, though we can't say what the turnout numbers are yet," said Cindy Reichert, director of elections in Minneapolis.

Enthusiastic voters, including many people voting for the first time, showed up at polls early. In south Minneapolis, voters were lined up outside Sanford Middle School when election judges arrived at 6 a.m., an hour before voting began. In St. Paul, additional voter registration cards and ballots were taken to every ward in the city. At one south Minneapolis polling place, 26 percent of the 1,891 in-person ballots cast were by newly registered voters.

Demitu Abdissa, an immigrant from Ethiopia, has lived in the U.S. for 18 years and has been a citizen for six. She registered and voted for the first time on Tuesday in Richfield.

"I saw something different this time in the candidates; I can see changes," she said. "I was excited."

At a public housing complex at 280 Ravoux St. in St. Paul, poll workers were swamped with new registrants, elderly voters and non-English speakers. "It was total pandemonium," said election judge Elaine Shelby.

Shelby said poll workers had to call Ramsey County election officials for more secrecy folders, clipboards and pens.

Precincts in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park reported that by mid-afternoon, two-thirds of eligible voters had already cast ballots.

"In my voting lifetime there have been three times when I thought that casting my ballot would make a major difference," said Rob Machalek of St. Louis Park. "This is one of those."

In north Minneapolis, Randal Byron said he had talked with his mother about how poll taxes once were used to discourage black voters.

"Coming from that, it makes me proud that [Barack Obama has] made it this far," Byron said. "I've never felt this way in the three times I've voted for president."

Scattered technical problems were reported across Minnesota, although Ritchie said none was big enough to delay voting for long.

The most serious problem was in St. Paul's Merriam Park neighborhood, where electricity went out for about 20 minutes in two precincts when a car hit a nearby utility pole. Voting continued when back-up power systems kicked in.

A hotline set up by Election Protection, a nonpartisan group that protects voters' rights, received about 700 calls from Minnesotans who had trouble voting on Tuesday, said spokesman Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota. Most of those problems involved issues of identification and were resolved, Dean said.

Star Tribune staff writers Allie Shah, Steve Brandt, Tim Harlow, Patrice Relerford, Bill McAuliffe, Richard Meryhew, Curt Brown, Karen Paurus, Colleen Kelly, Dennis Buster and Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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