MINNEAPOLIS — The battleground state of Minnesota began voting in the presidential election on Friday as polling stations opened in every county and local officials began mailing out huge piles of absentee ballots to make voting safer amid the pandemic.

Jason Miller, 33, a painter from Minneapolis, was at the front of the line at the early voting center in heavily Democratic Minneapolis, where officials said 44 people voted in the first half hour after polls opened. Proudly wearing his "I Voted Early" sticker on his face mask, Miller said he arrived at 7:15 a.m. to vote against President Donald Trump.

"Probably many times over the last four years I had thought, 'I'm going to be the first dude in Minnesota to say 'no way' to this guy,'" Miller said after voting for Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The state got its head start on voting on the same day that Trump and Biden scheduled dueling campaign stops in northern Minnesota, with Trump hosting a rally in Bemidji and Biden visiting a union training center in Duluth.

Secretary of State Steve Simon said interest in voting early was "sky high." According to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a majority of Trump supporters plan to cast their ballots on Election Day, while about half of Biden's backers plan to vote by mail.

At the Minneapolis voting center, officials put coronavirus protections in place, including plexiglass dividers and plenty of hand sanitizer. Poll workers kept voting booths wiped down with disinfectant. Compliance with state health guidelines requiring face masks in public indoor places appeared to be 100%.

Simon said he expects about a third of the state's electorate to vote early, either in person or by absentee ballot. Over 900,000 residents had requested absentee ballots by Friday. Simon said he expects around 1.2 million absentee ballots to be cast by Election Day with a total turnout of around 3 million to 3.1 million. By comparison, about 618,000 voters took advantage of absentee and early voting in 2016 with a total turnout of just under 3 million.

Under court-ordered pandemic rules, witness signatures aren't required and absentee ballots can be postmarked as late as Election Day. Officials will then have seven calendar says to count them as they trickle in. That means voters have a "guaranteed cushion," but that Minnesota won't have complete results until Nov. 10, Simon said.

Voters must understand "that it is literally by design, it's not anyone's fault, and it's not the result of anyone falling asleep at the switch," he said. He stressed that even without 100% of the final results for a week, "I suspect that we will have a large majority of the outcomes known, the winners known, either on election night or shortly thereafter."

Simon said he's confident that the U.S. Postal Service will be able to handle the surge of absentee ballots, despite reports of turmoil within the system.

"One of the jokes that they made with us a couple times is, 'This is nothing compared to the holidays,'" he said. "Even if everyone sent their ballot on the same day, it wouldn't come close to the daily traffic that they get on any single day during the holiday period."

Voters can also hand-deliver their absentee ballots, or a trusted person can deliver a ballot for them if certain rules are followed, he said. Voters can track their ballots on the secretary of state's website, MNVotes.org, to see whether and when it arrives.

Kasono Mwanza, 32, an actor from Minneapolis, said he requested a ballot be mailed to his home but decided he just wanted to vote, so he cast his ballot for Biden in person on Friday morning.

"The last four years have been, for the lack of a better word, interesting," he said. "And I think that we need change, in a good way, a positive way that details science and actual facts and empathy. I think those things are important. People want to know that they're being cared for."