MINNEAPOLIS—About 40 people wearing winter coats, tasseled hats, and gloves waited in line for polls to open at Central Gym Park Recreation Center on Tuesday morning. A couple of miles away, a similar number stood in front of Phillips Community Center.
These two voting locations embrace the four Minneapolis precincts hit hardest by rioting this summer after George Floyd’s death in May just a few blocks away.
This morning all was calm. Skies were blue. Minnesota’s fickle temperatures were headed toward the 60s.
According to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, over half of the more than 3.5 million registered voters in Minnesota voted before Election Day. That’s about 62 percent of the total turnout for the 2016 presidential election. Of the more than 2 million absentee ballots Minnesotans have requested this year, officials have accepted more than 1.8 million so far, a state record.
A disproportionate number of absentee ballots are from Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the biggest Democratic strongholds in the state. Minneapolis is in Hennepin County: Of about 272,000 registered Minneapolis voters, about 160,000 absentee votes had been accepted as of Monday.
Even with record-high absentee voting, a steady stream of citizens entered the polling places all morning.
The first woman to cast her ballot at Central, Lucretia Atkins, 57, told me she’s never missed an opportunity to vote: “I have to give my input to get my desired output.” She voted strictly Democratic.
Catrina Blair, 46, said: “I have a brown son, and if I don’t advocate for him, who will?” She later brought her 9-year-old son, Tracey, back to say hello. She wants him to know how important voting is. She, too, voted Democratic.
Len Mathe, a 74-year-old Vietnam vet, was eager to talk, saying he voted for Trump and shared a birthday with the president. But he qualified his statement: “I don’t like either candidate.” He wants term limits and age limits, believing both candidates are too old. He was especially concerned about Joe Biden’s mental capacity. He was worried about the Senate race, too, and voted for Republican Jason Lewis.
Mathe, who moved to Minneapolis from the suburbs seven years ago, said he loves the city but was saddened it was Minneapolis that lit a fuse, leading the country down a violent road. He wants the city to lead without the vitriol: “We have great people in our city. We each need to do our part. It’s up to the people, not any president.”
Known historically for high voter rates, Minnesota had the highest turnout in the nation in 2016 with 75 percent of eligible voters participating. Minnesota has voted Democratic in most presidential elections. Not since 1972, when Richard Nixon defeated Democrat George McGovern, has Minnesota gone Republican. In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton by fewer than 45,000 votes.
President Trump held four campaign rallies in Minnesota this year, hoping to turn the state red and gain 10 Electoral College votes. Biden campaigned here twice.
At the Phillips location, Adam Ugas, 38, said he’s a Muslim and voted for Biden. He doesn’t think people of his religion are safe with Trump as president. Amy Wanggaard, 36, holding the hand of 7-year-old daughter Hattie, said she voted Democratic because of racial unrest and the southern border camps that separate families.
Stephen Clayton, 25, came out of the polls smiling. He said he voted straight Republican and loves that Trump is pro-life. He moved to Minnesota from Georgia this year just after the rioting and in the middle of the pandemic. He’s a seminary student at Bethlehem College and Seminary.
In front of both polling places, in addition to election judges, were people wearing orange vests from Powderhorn Safety Collective. A volunteer, Louis McCoy, said the group is nonpartisan, created after the George Floyd incident to help citizens connect and feel safe in their neighborhoods. It encourages neighbors to call police only for immediate threats to health or safety. On Tuesday its volunteers wanted to assure residents they could vote safely.
Still, with political tensions high, state officials are concerned about potential trouble after polls closed at 8 p.m. Gov. Tim Walz had already contacted the Minnesota National Guard and other law enforcement to consider possible scenarios, according to public safety commissioner and former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington.
Walz, along with former Govs. Mark Dayton (Democrat), Tim Pawlenty (Republican), and Jesse Ventura (Reform Party governor who later registered independent), recently released a 78-second video urging civility and calm during and after the election.
An alliance of radical left-wing racial justice groups is planning a “National Day of Protest for a People’s Mandate” for Wednesday evening regardless of the election’s outcome.
In a surprise announcement Monday, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would send federal officials to Minnesota and 17 other states to monitor elections for potential federal voting law violations.
Last week, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Minnesota absentee ballots coming in after Election Day must be separated from others in case of legal challenges. The counting of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day differs in each state, and legal challenges have thrown Minnesota’s absentee ballots into question: Currently, the state plans to count ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10.—by Sharon Dierberger