Hennepin County smashes previous absentee ballot record days before deadline

About 70 people waited in line at an early voting center.
Thursday afternoon about 70 people waited in line at the South Early Voting Center on 1860 E 28th St. Minneapolis, while a dozen people were inside voting on Nov. 3, 2016. Some voters in line said the wait was about an hour.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

The number of absentee ballots cast by mail or in-person in Hennepin County so far this year, more than 134,000, has already surpassed a previous high mark of 82,000, according to a county elections official.

Hennepin election manager Ginny Gelms said with just a few days remaining before election day, that total is expected to grow much higher.

Until recently, people had to provide an acceptable reason why they had to vote early.

"Since 2014, that's no longer the case," Gelms said. "Anybody in Minnesota can vote by absentee ballot for any reason or no reason. And so we've seen a lot of people taking advantage of that and I think that's one of the reasons we're seeing such a big absentee turnout."

At one early voting site in south Minneapolis, voters reported wait times of up to an hour. Gelms said clerks from several cities reported high numbers. The Plymouth city clerk reported "over 900 people in one day at her location earlier this week," the county election manager said.

In anticipation of high demand, the city of Minneapolis increased the number of early voting sites from one to four. The Hennepin County Government Center sees a few hundred voters each day.

The high early voting volume may speed lines on Nov. 8.

"Every person who casts an absentee ballot prior to election day, that's another person that we don't have to try to get through the polls on Election Day itself during those 13 hours that the polls are open," Gelms said.

Absentee votes may represent 1 in 5 of the total ballots cast this year, double the county's previous record.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, early voting continues until 5 p.m. Monday, the day before Election Day. Absentee ballots also are available on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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