It was a nippy, overcast morning at Minneapolis' early voting center, 980 E. Hennepin Ave., as voting officially kicked off for the Nov. 7 City Council elections.
There was a slower trickle of eager voters when doors opened at 8 a.m. than two years ago, when the municipal ballot was crowded with a huge array of offices including the mayor and council, as well as three major questions about government structure, public safety and rent control.
Still, 23 people cast votes within the first hour, campaign volunteers taxied voters in and out of the parking lot and interpreters hovered about hugging large cups of coffee. And at least one sitting council member thought it worthwhile to vie for the distinction of being first in line.
Elliott Payne, who is making a tradition of always being one of the first people to vote in a municipal election, invited friends and supporters to join him for a donut breakfast on a park bench opposite the voting center. Two years ago, when he ran for the First Ward seat for the first time, he was nervous. This year he has an incumbent's glow.
The balance of power on the City Council is the overarching question that this year's election poses, Payne said.
"Under the current structure of council, you have a majority of the body that's fairly aligned with the mayor, " he said. "Under a potentially new balance of what makes up the council, there might be more appetite to question some of the decisions that are being made by the administration."
Edwin Fruit is challenging Payne for his seat representing northeast Minneapolis.
A significant portion of the earliest voters were residents of the Sixth Ward, the central Minneapolis nexus of the city's East African communities. A competitive race is shaping up there between sitting Council Member Jamal Osman, who is Somali, and 21-year-old challenger Tiger Worku, who is Oromo.
Ayan Warsame, a Somali and Swahili interpreter who volunteers for Osman's campaign, said she respects how the council member advocates for constituents calling for rideshare regulations and rent control, even when it puts him at odds with the mayor.
But Oromo interpreter Sada Hamed said she backs Worku because she's tired of seeing encampments proliferate in her ward, full of young men who are addicted to fentanyl and have been kicked out of their homes. She hopes a young man like Worku could be a better model.
"So many things affect immigrants," said Warsame. "They're part of the housing crisis. They're part of the lack of security and police for their neighborhood. They're part of the epidemic in drugs. Those are their children. They're in prison, they are addicts, that are unable to go to rehab. So they know these issues affect them close to home, and unless you have someone advocating for you, how do you get solutions? So that's why they're very passionate, and I love that."
Kayseh Magan and Guy Gaskin are also in the running for the Sixth Ward.
Election judges Ralph Baumgartner and Kristie Hennig walked to the voting center Friday morning from their home in the Third Ward. They wanted to cast their votes for incumbent Michael Rainville in his race against Marcus Mills before the election season picks up steam, since they anticipate volunteering all their time in other wards.
Ahead of the last election, calls to defund the police amid significant crime issues sounded ridiculous to him, Baumgartner said. But this year, as Minneapolis enters state and federal consent decrees, he wants candidates to get serious about the "and" in "public safety and police accountability."
Thirty-eight candidates are running for 13 seats in Minneapolis. Winners will serve two-year terms.
By polls' close Friday afternoon, 381 people had voted, said Minneapolis' election director Katie Smith. That actually beats the 2021 election's first-day turnout of 236.
In St. Paul, the entire City Council also is up for election to four-year terms. There, 30 candidates are vying for seven seats. Four school board seats are also on the ballot.
Early voting opened Friday at the Ramsey County Elections building, 90 Plato Blvd W.
Two significant elections rule changes went into effect this year: teens as young as 16 can pre-register to vote although they can't actually vote until they turn 18. Meanwhile, people convicted of a felony will be able to vote for the first time as long as they are not incarcerated.