Minneapolis likely surpassed a record Friday for the number of early ballots cast in a municipal-only election, signaling that the city could be on the verge of historic high voter turnout as candidates and activist groups make all-out voting pushes this weekend.
More than 12,500 voters have submitted ballots since early voting began Sept. 17. With less than two weeks to go before Election Day on Nov. 2, early voting has already exceeded the total number of early ballots cast in 2017.
"That's huge … we are seeing much higher early voting turnout," City Clerk Casey Carl said outside the early voting center as a line of people queued up Friday afternoon. "Minneapolis is a very activist and engaged community. That's something to be proud of if you're a voter."
In 2017, nearly 43% of registered voters cast ballots in the municipal election, with 12,174 residents voting early. This year, Carl said he expects overall turnout could come close to or exceed 50% of registered voters.
"It's the consequential nature and highly competitive races driving it," Carl said.
Voters are choosing candidates for mayor, all 13 City Council seats, the Park and Recreation Board, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation, as well as deciding three charter amendments, including questions on whether to replace the Police Department with a public safety agency and whether to allow rent control.
In the past four decades, the highest turnout for a municipal election in Minneapolis was 46.5% in 1997. Nationally, municipal elections usually draw 15-20% of eligible voters, Carl said, much lower than midterm elections, when statewide positions are on the ballot, or during presidential elections.
On Friday, Valerie Golden cast her first-ever ballot in a municipal election.
"This time, I'm more motivated," said the 67-year-old downtown resident.
She said the three charter amendment questions — "hot button issues that a lot of people feel strongly about" — compelled her to participate.
Many voters who exited the voting center agreed, citing the charter amendments, especially the policing measure.
"I think they're probably the biggest drivers [of turnout]," said Zach Mandell, 26, who lives in the North Loop and cast his ballot before his night shift as a nurse. "People are really not happy with the current administration in Minneapolis. Young people are maybe getting more disillusioned with big government politics and focusing on local organizing."
The election has drawn a near-record number of candidates, with 102 people filing to run for office.
This year's early voting turnout is a record at least for recent years; Minneapolis officials haven't examined a full history of voting records, but early voting has become increasingly popular since a state law change in 2014 allowed no-excuse absentee voting. Before then, Minnesotans voting absentee had to attest they were unable to get to their polling places because of travel, illness or other specific reasons.
Of the Minneapolis voters who have cast ballots so far, about 55% have done so in person. Voters in the Sixth Ward, which spans central neighborhoods including parts of Cedar Riverside, Elliot Park and Seward, have cast the most votes of any ward — more than 2,000 so far.
Also Friday, the city tested its 134 voting machines, computer program and ballots, as required by state law before any election. The city also livestreamed the tests, part of an effort to combat any challenges of election results.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141