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COVID-19 sparks 'tidal wave' of mail-in ballots across Minnesota

Kim Hyatt, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Political News

MINNEAPOLIS -- Susan Truesdell, a mother of two from Champlin, is planning to stray from her typical voting routine this year.

"With concerns of COVID I have been avoiding taking them to public places as much as I can," she said of her two children, ages 3 and 5.

And after the 37-year-old read about the "horror stories of other states closing polling locations," she said she didn't want to risk that happening in Minnesota. So she and her husband, Justin, completed the online absentee application July 23 and received ballots within a week.

They will be among a record number of Minnesotans this year who are voting by mail, seeking to avoid the long lines and crowds seen at polling places in other states amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voters across the state have requested 10 times as many absentee ballots for the upcoming Aug. 11 primary election as in the primary election four years ago. As of Friday, about 545,830 absentee ballots had been requested, according to the Secretary of State's office. At that point in 2016, there were 25,930 ballot requests; in 2018, there had been about 54,265 requests by the end of July.

Secretary of State Steve Simon, who has sought to expand mail-in voting, said election officials statewide "anticipated this tidal wave of absentee ballots."

 

"They have all reported that they are seeing record levels of absentee ballot requests," he said.

Hennepin County Election Manager Ginny Gelms said the turnout for this primary looks to be historic largely in part because of the surge in absentee ballots.

"It's off the charts," she said. "In a typical year -- obviously this year is anything but typical for a number of reasons -- this would be our lowest turnout event. But given the response we've seen in the mail ... there is a possibility to see record-breaking turnout for the primary."

So far, 218,000 ballots have been sent to voters in Hennepin County. In 2016, only 8,000 absentee ballots were cast in the primary, and 203,400 in the general election.

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