Strong voter turnout reported in some parts of Minnesotaby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — As Election Day headed toward evening, Minnesota officials were reporting strong turnout throughout the state.
"We had very strong morning turnout," said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. If turnout continues at that pace, the state likely would exceed his earlier prediction of a 60 percent turnout.
"We could exceed 2.1 to 2.2 million voters," he said.
Good weather throughout the state was a factor in higher than expected turnout, Ritchie said.
County officials in northwestern Minnesota said earlier they saw strong turnout this morning.
Clay County Auditor-Treasurer Lori Johnson said people realize this year that their one vote can make a difference.
"It's been pretty heavy. We've had to already send out new voter registration cards to a number of precincts, and the lines have been fairly long," said Johnson.
Johnson said the school district referendum in the city of Moorhead and gubernatorial race may have spurred the strong turnout.
Some election observers say with favorable weather conditions today, and a number of competitive races, voter turnout throughout could exceed 60 percent.
Ritchie said Election Day got started without a hitch, noting there were no power outages reported like the one in St. Paul in 2008.
In 2008, about 78 percent of eligible Minnesota voters cast ballots.
At a precinct in Elliot Park in Minneapolis, Don Peterson was the first in line to vote. Peterson said he was voting for Democrats and said he expects it will be a difficult year for them.
After voting for President Barack Obama in 2008, he said he can understand why.
"President Obama hasn't pulled the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan," Peterson said. "I voted for him in 2008 because I thought he would."
At Liberty Ridge Elementary School in Woodbury, Kelly Fenton and her 18-year-old son, Will, showed up early to cast their ballots. Will Fenton said he voted "straight right wing" and said he thinks Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer would leave a sound fiscal legacy for young people like him.
Kelly Fenton, who has volunteered for the party, said she feels a Republican surge in the area.
"I do get a sense that's coming here. I've actually been working for the various candidates here in this district, and meeting people at the doors, there's a sense that they're going to come out and vote. And definitely leaning to the Republican candidate," Fenton said.
Woodbury's 14th precinct went about 2-to-1 for Republican U.S. Senator Norm Coleman in 2008, but Republican presidential candidate John McCain won the precinct my a slightly smaller margin -- 58 to 40 percent. Voters were more split on the U.S. House race and the re-election of Republican Michele Bachmann.
Booming growth in southeastern Woodbury could bode even better for Republicans this year. In the last election alone, the Fentons' precinct had about 20 percent more voters than were pre-registered -- the second best such showing of any precinct in the Twin Cities.
Voters contacting MPR's Public Insight Network reported high turnout in some areas and less activity in others.
Michael Blix of Minneapolis voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton on Tuesday, but he said his experience was in sharp contrast to his first voting experience in 2008.
"This year excitement was down and there were no crowds," he said.
But another Dayton voter, Scott Oine of Robbinsdale, said he always votes at 7 a.m. and said he was suprised to see so many people joining him this morning.
"There were significantly more voters today than for the presidential election two years ago," he said.
Ritchie said interest in election procedures stemming from the 2008 Senate election recount has led more people to volunteer to be election judges.
A state law enacted in March aims to avoid the problems with the absentee ballots that hung up the Senate election for months. The new law directs election administrators to check and count absentee ballots in a central location rather than precinct-by-precinct to be counted along with regular ballots.
"They are done at the county level typically or at the big city level. This changes the workload and the stress level for our election judges giving them the time and the attention to focus on all the other aspects of the elections process," he said.
Rachel Smith, election director for Hennepin County, agreed that the change would make things easier.
"Basically, it's allowing us a little more time and making sure that everything is processed correctly," she said. "It also gives us a smaller group of people to oversee a large number of ballots so it's done more consistently."
Ritchie said another new program stemming from the 2008 Senate recount -- an online absentee ballot tracking tool -- has proven popular.
The polls will stay open until 8 p.m. tonight.
(MPR reporters Mark Zdechlik and Elizabeth Dunbar and public insight analyst Molly Bloom contributed to this report.)
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- All Things Considered, 11/02/2010, 5:20 p.m.
Tim Nelson is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.