With a month to go before Election Day, the number of Minnesota voters who’ve already turned in their ballots is much higher than at the same point in 2016 when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vied for the presidency.
Most election observers said they expected that the coronavirus pandemic would drive people to cast absentee ballots this year rather than expose themselves to crowded polling places on Nov. 3. But the response has been overwhelming.
More than 1 million Minnesota voters already have requested absentee ballots, and nearly a quarter of those have been returned and counted. The 336,017 ballots already accepted are a 600% increase over those returned at this point during 2016’s general election and a 700% increase over 2018.
The dramatic increases are occurring across the state — in urban areas as well as rural regions and in counties that went for Trump in 2016 as well as those that went for Clinton. Some of the largest increases — well over 1,000% — are occurring in greater Minnesota in places like Dodge County in southern Minnesota and Marshall County in the northwest.
“Voters on both sides of the aisle are very motivated to vote in 2020,” said Kathryn Pearson, University of Minnesota political science professor. “People on both sides feel passionate about their candidate and no one wants to get COVID going into a voting booth.”
David Berding, 30, of Brooklyn Park, is among those who don’t want to stand in line with other people on Election Day in the midst of a pandemic. He also knew early on that he was voting for former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I figured I would just get it out of the way,” he said.
Like other voters casting absentee ballots this year, it may become his preferred way of voting from now on.
“It’s convenient,” Berding said.
The number of people voting absentee has steadily climbed since it went into effect over the last several years, said Risikat Adesaogun, a spokeswoman with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office. By 2016, about one in four voters cast their ballots that way.
For some, it’s a matter of convenience. This year, with the pandemic, many see it as the safest way to vote.
“People are choosing to vote from home for their own safety and the safety of their family,” she said. “Some view it as a public service for the community at large because not everyone can or wants to vote from home.”
Reducing the number of voters at polling places will make it safer for those who show up Nov. 3.
As the weeks pass, the number of people requesting absentee ballots has remained steady, Adesaogun said.
The 1.4 million ballots that have been requested so far include those that go out to the 200,000 people who live in precincts where voting by mail is the only option.
Still, the numbers of those being cast absentee are easily eclipsing previous years, Adesaogun said. Many are arriving via the Postal Service. Others are being hand-delivered.
More than 3,000 people voted absentee in person on Sept. 18, the first day it was possible to do so. That compares with 857 people who showed up on the first day in 2016.
Erik Olson of Eagan had his absentee ballot in hand on Friday with plans to go to City Hall to deliver it in person rather than chance any possible Postal Service delay. In August, he sent his primary absentee ballot through the mail.
Olson and his wife are choosing to vote absentee this year in part because they’ve been trying to avoid crowded places due to the threat of COVID-19. But they’ve also felt it was their duty to sign up as election judges, thinking that since they are both relatively young, at 31, they may be at less risk if they contract COVID-19 than older people, who generally tend to volunteer at the polls.
“The election feels so important,” Olson said. “It was something tangible we could do to help the community.”