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'Revved up': Minnesota voters pack the polls for midterms

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Voting in Minneapolis
Salma Barkad has voted in every election since she turned 18. "Every vote counts. Every voice should be heard," she said at a poll in midtown Minneapolis on Tuesday morning, November 6, 2018.
Jiwon Choi | MPR News

Updated: 5:44 p.m. | Posted: 12:42 p.m. 

A strong Election Day turnout combined with a record number of early voters for a midterm election put Minnesota on track for a high level of participation on Tuesday.

Observers at some local polling stations reported that despite a steady rain, long lines had already formed by the time polls opened at 7 a.m. At one polling place in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, people were lined up to vote at 6:45 a.m. and voters streamed in steadily throughout the morning. Among them was Missy Reinikainen.

"It's a good day," she said. "People seem excited and revved up."

"I'll vote any day that I can, and especially today," Reinikainen said. "Right now, I think everyone is feeling a little powerless, especially if they don't agree with the current administration. So I think doing anything we can feels like it is more important than ever. And voting seems like the easiest and one of the more impactful ways to do that."

Student judge Mark Kivimaki checks in voters.
Student judge Mark Kivimaki, volunteering through his comparative government class at Edina High School, checks in voters at the Edina Senior Center. There had been nearly 100 voters by 8 am.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

At a polling place in south Minneapolis, Rebecca Zadroga was the 23rd person to vote. Her concerns as a voter were the same as those voiced by much of the electorate this year.

"Health care is a big one for me," she said. "I work in the health care field and I'm a big proponent of the single-payer system." She said immigration and the environment are the other top issues that inspired her to vote.  

Figures released by Secretary of State Steve Simon, whose office oversees elections in Minnesota, showed that the number of people who exercised the option of voting early set a record for a midterm election.

Over 634,000 people cast their ballots in Minnesota before the polls opened Tuesday morning. The state's early voting record was set at 674,566 in 2016, which was a presidential election year. Minnesotans have been allowed to vote ahead of Election Day without needing to provide an excuse since 2014.

While the popularity of absentee voting has taken off, election experts also noted overall excitement about the races themselves. The state will elect a new governor and attorney general, pick members of Congress, and decide which party runs the state Legislature.

People vote at Bloomington City Hall.
People cast their ballots at Bloomington City Hall.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Minnesota typically ranks high in voter turnout. Back in 2016, it was first in the nation. 

In Moorhead, Minn., Jake Mullin said no specific issues were informing his vote this year. "I think the overall climate right now in the country kind of necessitates people getting out and speaking their mind, getting their their voice and their opinions heard," he said. 

Mullin said he was voting early so he could spend the rest of the day giving college students rides to the polling place. 

In Bemidji, Minn., election judges reported that voter traffic had been steady all day long. More than 300 voters had come through the City Hall polling station by noon, roughly the same rate as in the presidential election two years ago.

Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities east metro suburb of Woodbury, Richard Withworth said he was motivated to vote to keep taxes low and continue economic growth. He also said it's important for all candidates to begin working together.

"It's true that identity politics works," he said. "But really, our lives are more holistic and more well-rounded than that."

Francisco and Ramona Rosales cast their ballots on St. Paul's west side, hoping that whoever wins today's elections can help break the partisan gridlock in Washington. He said neither Democrats nor Republicans had learned the art of give and take.

"Unfortunately, they haven't been able to convince the other side," Francisco Rosales said. "And it's so elementary. In any conversation I have, [over] 47 years of marriage, I don't rule. Neither does she." 

"We've compromised and work together," said Ramona Rosales. 

In St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood, voter T.J. Pierret said she'd been waiting two years to go back to the polls following the 2016 presidential election. She said she wanted to be part of what she called a "blue wave" this year.

"It's just time for everybody to make their voice heard and stand up what's right in America," she said.

She also brought her 18-year-old daughter Lily Brielmaier to vote for the first time. They were among the voters that filled the parking lot and stood in line for more than 30 minutes to cast their ballots at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

There were scattered reports of some problems at polling places, including one in St. Paul, where vote-counting machines initially malfunctioned and weren't accepting ballots.

April Greibrok, the head election judge there, said the size of paper ballots might have been a factor. 

"We're actually not sure what the error was, but it's possible that the ballot may have been cut slightly off, so the ballot counter was having trouble reading it," she said. "So we now have a third ballot counter, and they're recalibrating it and it appears to be working, which is wonderful."

Greibrok said that ballots that could not initially be processed would be tabulated by a pair of election judges representing both major parties.

A statement from the city of Minneapolis said that, as of noon, nearly 70,000 voters had cast Election Day ballots at the city's 132 polling places. It said that figure represented about 28 percent of all registered voters in Minneapolis.