Tuesday's historic general election in Minnesota was marked by mostly calm conditions across the state, while a record surge in absentee voting fueled expectations of another strong turnout statewide even as it portended a longer wait for full results.
Some counties, such as Ramsey, had yet to report all but a small fraction of vote totals as of 11 p.m. Elections officials meanwhile noted full tallies of absentee votes may not be finished until later this week. Still, the tranquillity across Minnesota's precincts belied earlier worries of an election beset by the coronavirus pandemic and security breaches at polling places.
"It's really about the absence rather than the presence of things to report," Secretary of State Steve Simon said Tuesday.
A record 1,839,710 absentee ballots had already been accepted by the morning of Election Day — a number equal to nearly 63% of total turnout in the 2016 election. Another 297,482 absentee ballots were still outstanding. Simon said those ballots likely included voters from mail-only jurisdictions who did not plan to vote and voters who initially asked for absentee ballots but instead voted in person Tuesday.
Reports of long lines were uncommon and often limited to voters queuing up right as polling places opened for the day. One notable exception was in Farmington, where the line stretched for four blocks outside the Rambling River Center by midafternoon and remained steady well after polls closed. Officials there said they didn't have enough election judges because of COVID-19 so they crammed six precincts into two polling places.
In Apple Valley, Jonathan Broden brought his two daughters, Madyson Broden, 20, and Danielle Broden, 18, to vote for the first time at their precinct, where lines thinned out by 8 a.m. The family is split, with Jonathan and Danielle voting for Trump and Madyson voting for Biden.
"We respect each other's decision," Jonathan said. "It was a really cool thing to do together today."
At Bloomington's Southtown Baptist Church, Angelia Robin, 29, chose to vote in person so she could be certain her vote was counted.
"Minnesota makes it easy for us, but [I'm] not going to lie, the current administration was a little sketchy with the tone of how they described mail-in voting, so I just wanted to make sure it counted the day of," Robin said.
Nick Heaton, 33, left surprised that it took him just five minutes to cast his ballot there.
"I think every vote counts the same, but I think there's something significant to come out even during a pandemic and vote in person," Heaton said.
Speaking outside the State Capitol earlier Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz, who had already voted by mail, told Minnesotans to mask up, socially distance and stay in line to cast their votes if they arrived in person before the 8 p.m. cutoff.
"If it takes until midnight, we will be there," he said.
Walz tried to quell fears about potential unrest, even as some Twin Cities businesses boarded up their buildings or announced plans to hire additional security. Walz cautioned that boarded-up buildings are not a "self-fulfilling prophecy."
The calm on Tuesday came as little surprise to officials such as Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms, who noted that the county had already accepted more than 521,000 absentee ballots by Election Day. Gelms reported no incidents of intimidation or significant equipment problems.
Last month, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took action against a Tennessee-based security contractor that briefly advertised jobs for ex-special forces members to illegally serve as armed guards at polling places. The contractor, in a court agreement, admitted that it erroneously advertised what was intended to be a security job for a private Minnesota company and agreed not to do business in Minnesota the rest of this year.
Officials said Tuesday that there were no complaints involving armed citizens at polling places. Simon described only "episodic one-off issues." Those included brief power outages and a separate signage mishap regarding where to vote in one northern Minnesota jurisdiction.
Election managers from more than 70 counties linked up through a real-time communications platform to share reports from their respective jurisdictions Tuesday.
State and federal officials monitored reports of misleading robocalls instructing people to stay home on Election Day. Republican U.S. House candidate Tyler Kistner tweeted that he received such a call the day before the election and his campaign said it called Ellison's office Tuesday afternoon.
Kevin Smith, an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, confirmed that the bureau was aware of reports of such calls coming into Minnesota and elsewhere in the country, and reminded voters to "verify any election and voting information they may receive through their local election officials."
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reshaped planning for the election this year, and election workers around the state stocked up on face masks, shields and disinfectant supplies, and enforced social distancing guidelines to try to mitigate the virus' spread on Election Day.
Simon's office also previously agreed to extend by one week the deadline for mail-in ballots to be counted, responding to a state court lawsuit over concerns that the pandemic and a surge in mail voting could delay ballots. But a federal appellate court late last week ordered ballots that arrived after 8 p.m. Tuesday to be segregated in anticipation of further legal challenges.
Simon said his office would release daily tallies of how many segregated ballots are set aside in each county starting Wednesday, and that those votes would be included in the overall election results unless further court action invalidated them. The Eighth Circuit court decision only addressed the presidential election, but Simon noted the possibility that the results of other races could be challenged similarly.
In the metro, while all precincts in Hennepin County had reported as of late Tuesday, all but a small fraction of results had yet to come in from neighboring Ramsey and Washington counties. As polls closed, Simon also cautioned that the evening would have a different feel, given that counting all ballots would take a few days. On Twitter late Tuesday, Simon wrote "that's literally by design. It's evidence that the system is working."
Though it was too soon to say how many Minnesotans turned out this election, Simon said he believed the state would hit an overall turnout in the high 70s, percentage-wise. In Minneapolis, officials had already estimated a voter turnout record of 228,903 two hours before polls closed.
"We are poised to have a really, really good election — a high turnout, robust election with few administrative glitches or hiccups," Simon said. "That pattern seems to be holding and so far a textbook execution of what Minnesota does best, which is vote."
Staff writers Kristen Leigh Painter, Rochelle Olson and Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.