Voter turnout for primary highest since 1982

Primary election voting in Coon Rapids.
People sign in and get their ballots at the Coon Rapids Civic Center Tuesday.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Updated: 12:08 p.m. Wednesday | Posted: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Minnesota voters showed up in full force at the polls, fueling what could be an unusually high turnout for a state primary election.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon reported in a tweet Wednesday morning the number of primary voters throughout the state was the highest since 1982.

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Elections officials in Ramsey County predicted a higher turnout than in any state primary for the last 25 years, and Hennepin County saw a strong and steady showing at the polls all day long.

In Minneapolis, elections officials had expected the showing would be historic — and it was. The city set a new record for participation in a midterm primary. More than 93,500 people voted, either in the voting booth Tuesday or ahead of Election Day by absentee ballot.

"It's really unusual to have this kind of turnout for a primary," said Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl. "It makes me wonder what the November election will look like."

'Believe our vote makes a difference'

Primary voting in Richfield
The City of Richfield is providing both "I Voted" stickers to voters and "Future Voter" stickers to kids who accompany their parents to the polls, here at the Catholic Church of St. Peter.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Ruqia Abdi of Minneapolis was excited to cast her ballot with her 19-year-old daughter, Sumaya Hanafi, who was voting in her first primary. They spent much of their summer researching candidates together.

"I believe our vote makes a difference," Abdi said. "It's a time to use our power so we can get on the stage who we think will be able to do something about the issues that face our community."

Two things seem to be fueling the surge: A number of high-profile, competitive races on the ballot and the rising popularity of no-excuse absentee voting.

About 38,000 people voted early in Hennepin County. Elections manager Ginny Gelms said that "smashed through" the previous record of 9,000 for ballots cast in a primary election.

It was the same story in Ramsey County, where 14,000 people cast their ballots ahead of the primary. Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said the primary ballot included a lot of important decisions for voters.

Justin Coyne, right, votes at the Pershing Park Recreation Center.
Justin Coyne, right, with daughters Nora, 6, in pink, and Adeline, 4, in blue, votes at the Pershing Park Recreation Center in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

"Ultimately, it's like sports," he said. "People want to see a competitive game, and that's what we have today."

The ballot includes races for two U.S. Senate seats, a handful of congressional seats, governor and attorney general.

In Minneapolis, there are some open legislative seats with multiple DFL candidates. These seats have long been held by Democrats, so this election — although a primary — is widely seen as the deciding race for those candidates.

In addition, voters interviewed by MPR News outside polling places Tuesday said they were energized by the results of the 2016 presidential election. Immigration, education and women's issues were some of the things that they said shaped their votes.

Tahnea Brown came with her 6-year-old daughter to her polling place in St. Paul.

Primary election in South St. Paul.
Richard Gapinski scans his ballot while voting vote at the Lutheran Memorial Church in South St. Paul. Gapinski says he has been voting in the precinct for over 50 years and votes in most elections.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

"There are so many people before me who fought and died for my right as a woman to vote and my right as a black person to vote," Brown said. "And every time I vote, I bring my daughter because as a black woman in America, I want her to know it's important like our voices need to be heard."

In Minneapolis, nearly 15,000 people voted by absentee ballot.

"There were nearly as many early voters in Minneapolis for the 2018 Primary as the previous 7 Gubernatorial (Midterm) Primaries COMBINED!" read one tweet from the Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services Division.

However, it wasn't until 2014 that voters were allowed to cast their ballots early without having to provide an excuse.