The Richfield DMV closed Tuesday to allow City Hall to focus on serving the early voters who are flooding City Hall in historic numbers.
"I think we were close to 200 before noon here. We had a line down the sidewalk this morning," said Elizabeth VanHoose, Richfield's city clerk. "It's been nuts."
Officials said the closure, which will remain in effect through Nov. 16, is necessary because the DMV is located in City Hall, next to where voters line up. The shuttering will allow more space for voters, maintaining social distance, and give employees more time to serve them. Customers can still put DMV-related items in a drop box and workers will process them.
As of Friday, 1.2 million Minnesotans had cast early ballots, crushing past records. Early voting has grown in popularity since Minnesota's no-excuse absentee law took effect for the 2014 election. This year's burst of early voters reflects national trends, as more voters choose to cast ballots ahead of Election Day due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kari Sinning, Richfield's deputy city clerk, said she didn't think the high numbers were specific to Richfield. "Every city's probably strapped to the nines," Sinning said.
VanHoose said Metro Mobility delivered a busload of people Tuesday morning, ready to vote.
Despite the record numbers, the mood at City Hall is cheerful and pleasant, VanHoose said. "It's not stressful at all," she said.
By 3 p.m., nearly 300 people had voted, VanHoose said, adding that the voters are from every walk of life.
Justin Dorschied of Richfield said his motivation in voting early was "avoiding the chaos on Election Day." He waited just 10 minutes, he said.
For Mohamed Mohamud, Richfield was the third polling place he visited Tuesday. Lines at the first two, in Minneapolis, were overwhelming, he said. He waited about 20 minutes to vote.
"It wasn't bad at all," he said.
Richfield's DMV closure serves another purpose. It will give workers time to be trained on the state's new licensing and registration system. Training was scheduled to begin in August but didn't because of understaffing, VanHoose said.
She noted Tuesday was the first day of direct balloting, where voters get to put their ballot in the ballot counter just as they would on Election Day. Previously, in-person absentee ballots went through the "envelope process" — they were placed in an envelope, which is sealed in another envelope and dropped off at the counter.
Some people get excited about putting their ballot in the machine, VanHoose said.
Richfield also is still accepting mail-in ballots, which can be placed in a drop box at City Hall.
Pam Bullock of Richfield finished voting Tuesday afternoon. She said she mostly did it to avoid crazy Election Day crowds, especially in light of the coronavirus.
"There may be a little bit of me that voted early to make sure my ballot was counted," she said.
Bullock said she was thrilled to see so many early voters, and that the record numbers could help buoy the nation's overall voter turnout.
"We could break records," she said. "That's what it's supposed to be about."