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Minnesota tracks lower absentee turnout ahead of Tuesday's primary election

Voting officials said the decrease in ballots cast by mail likely had to do with decreased concerns about COVID-19 compared to two years prior.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, speaks to reporters about the 2022 primary election outside of the Ramsey County Voting Office in St. Paul.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — The number of Minnesota voters casting their ballots by mail or in person ahead of the Tuesday, Aug. 9, primary election plunged from the rate two years prior, according to state voter data as concerns around the pandemic lifted.

A day before the election, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon on Monday, Aug. 8, said fears about COVID-19 in 2020 spurred record rates of absentee voting. And two years later, more people were likely to cast their ballots in person after they'd been able to get vaccinated against the illness and polling locations put in additional measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday, 128,872 Minnesotans were reported to have voted absentee in the primary elections, which is likely to be on closer track to hitting pre-pandemic absentee voting trends. In total, 263,795 requested absentee ballots.

"I would say there's no question about it, we saw a huge spike in absentee balloting for the reason you'd expect: COVID in 2020. Remember, this was pre-vaccine America. Hard to believe, right? Two years ago, there's a lot of fear and anxiety about going to public places," Simon said. "Now that we're not in that same position anymore, we have the vaccine. We have different protocols. I suspect, my gut tells me, that it's mostly a result of being in a different place with COVID, that we're not going to see as many people vote from home."

The two candidates in the Republican primary for attorney general are political newcomer Jim Schultz and 2018 candidate Doug Wardlow. Incumbent Keith Ellison is the likely DFL nominee.

Simon and Gov. Tim Walz on Monday morning spoke to reporters outside the Ramsey County Elections Office and encouraged Minnesotans to get out and vote in the primary. They also sought to assure people that Minnesota's elections were safe and fair, despite allegations from some candidates running in the state.

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"Minnesota has the fairest, the most secure and the largest turnout elections in America. We've seen that time and time again," Walz said. "We also know that the work that goes into securing these elections is critical and remind Minnesotans the primary election is tomorrow. You can still vote absentee today if you need to."

Voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on which candidates for governor , attorney general and secretary of state advance to the general election. And they'll get the chance to decide which candidates for Congress and the state Legislature move forward.

Southern Minnesota voters will also cast ballots on Tuesday to decide which candidate will serve out the remainder of the term serving Minnesota's First Congressional District. The seat came open after the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn died of cancer earlier this year.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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