Nearly 1.6 million Minnesotans have already cast their ballots by the weekend ahead of Tuesday's general election, more than twice the number of people who voted early in 2016, according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State's office.
The surge in early voting, whether by mail or in person, is due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic and fears about potential mail delays. Still, early voting centers across the Twin Cities were busy Friday after this week's ruling by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that raised questions about whether mail-in ballots received after 8 p.m. Tuesday would be counted.
"I'm just excited to get it done and didn't want to leave anything to chance," said John Holien, who along with his son Thor waited for an hour to cast his vote at the northeast Minneapolis voting center. "I just want to stand in line with my brothers and sisters and be seen and be heard."
The figures released by the Secretary of State's Office on Friday capture the latest snapshot of voter turnout before the general election.
The total already far surpasses the 676,722 Minnesotans who had cast their ballots before Election Day 2016 and make up more than half the 3 million who voted that year.
The arrival deadline for ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 was extended to Nov. 10 this year because of the pandemic.
But the extension was cast in doubt Thursday after a federal court ordered state election officials to separate all ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day, setting up potential court challenges to ballots received after that time.
With hundreds of thousands of requested absentee ballots potentially outstanding, many elected officials spent Friday urging voters to drop off their absentee ballots or vote in person instead of sending them by mail.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, told a crowd of several dozen supporters gathered for a get-out-the-vote event in Maple Grove on Friday to "put [aside] our anger at what's happening across the country, these attempts to suppress the vote … and just focus on how we're going to vote in the next few days."
"I got really mad, as anyone would, that they changed the rules of the game this late," Klobuchar said. "But we all decided when [the ruling] happened that the best way to approach it is to just tell people: 'If you've got a mail-in ballot, just drop it off.' And you should tell everyone you know that."
Precious Drew was one of those voters swayed to drop off her ballot because of Thursday's court decision.
"I don't want to take any chances in the mail. It only takes five minutes to drop it off," said Drew, 24, who took her ballot to Brooklyn Center City Hall.
Despite having already voted, Drew said she's still feeling anxious about the election.
"I'm definitely sick of the ads but also happy that the ads are in our face this year. It's a very important election year," she said. "I think either way, whichever of the major parties are selected, it's going to be a long four years [and] there's work to be done on both sides."
Selena Rasmussen waited for an Uber outside the Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services building in northeast Minneapolis.
As a registered agent, she was there to pick up an absentee ballot for someone who was physically unable to go to the polls.
She had voted by mail a month ago, tracking her ballot through the Secretary of State website to make sure it was accepted. Given Thursday's federal court ruling, she wanted to make sure the person she was helping also turned his ballot in on time.
"There's been a lot of abrupt, sudden things that have happened this year, especially around this election, and I think we just have to take them as they come," Rasmussen, 27, said. "As voters, it's our right to vote, to make sure our votes are counted. No matter the obstacles at this point, we just have to get it done."
Records were also being shattered in northern Minnesota.
In Duluth, about 40% of 56,000 registered voters have already cast their ballots, the City Clerk's Office reported Friday.
Other swing states in the Upper Midwest were also seeing large turnout, according to election authorities.
In Wisconsin, where the population is similar to Minnesota's, 1.7 million had voted as of Friday. In Michigan, which is nearly twice as populated, 2.6 million had returned their ballots as of Friday.
Early voting centers across the state must be open between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and until 5 p.m. Monday, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
Staff writers Katie Galioto and Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.