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'Busier than I've ever seen it': High turnout at local polls follows record-setting early voting numbers

Election official Bonnie Genin looks on as 18-year-old Lillian Bryniarski casts her first ballot ever at Perham City Hall during Tuesday's midterm election. (Marie Johnson / Perham Focus)1 / 2
Local election officials were reporting unusually high turnout at the polls on Tuesday. Pictured here, the voting booths at Perham City Hall were almost full over the noon hour. (Marie Johnson / Perham Focus)2 / 2

The nationwide fervor surrounding today’s midterm election seems to have reached into local polling places, where record numbers of early votes were cast and election officials were reporting uncommonly high turnout as of mid-day.

The polling site at Perham City Hall was “busier than during a (typical) general election,” according to City Manager Jon Smith, who was helping to direct incoming voters.

The city’s Administrative Assistant, Heather Hoeft, said it was “much busier than I’ve ever seen it” as of noon on Tuesday, and she’s helped out at a number of elections before, including two presidential elections.

The situation at the Perham Area Community Center polling site was similar, with numbers appearing to rival the turnout usually only seen during a presidential election.

On Tuesday afternoon, hours before polls started closing, national media outlets and election experts were already predicting record-breaking voter turnout across the country, following record numbers of early votes cast.

More than 35 million people had already cast their ballots nationwide before polling places even opened Tuesday, through absentee and early voting processes — an all-time-high for a midterm election. (In the last midterms, in 2014, fewer than 20 million early votes were counted on the day before the election.)

Early voter participation reached record levels in Minnesota, too, where voter turnout is typically among the highest in the nation. Secretary of State Steve Simon announced early Monday that almost 540,000 absentee ballots had already been accepted by election officials — a 129 percent increase over the total number of absentee votes cast in the 2014 midterm election.

“Minnesotans are on pace to hold our No. 1 title for voting participation,” Simon said in his announcement.

Well over 4,000 of those early votes came from Otter Tail County, which set a record of its own. Wayne Stein, the county’s auditor-treasurer, said 4,324 absentee ballots had been counted as of Tuesday morning, and more were expected to come in throughout the day. That total far exceeds the 2,353 absentee ballots collected in Otter Tail County during the 2014 midterm election, and it’s close to the total received in the last presidential election two years ago, of 4,627.

“This is definitely a record for a midterm election,” said Stein. “I don’t think we’ve ever been that high.”

Turnout for a midterm is typically lower than during presidential election years, but this year’s midterm has been regarded as a critical juncture in the direction of the country under President Donald Trump, and with republicans and democrats fighting for control of Congress, both parties view this election as an especially important one.

Minnesotans have had the option of voting early from home since 2014 through “no-excuse absentee” voting, and all county election offices also offer in-person early voting. Early voting for the 2018 election began Sept. 21 and ended Nov. 5.

Most local polling places opened at 7 a.m. this morning and will remain open until 8 p.m. tonight. For local election results, watch this website later tonight after polls close, and see this Thursday’s printed edition of the Perham Focus.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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