Hitting the polls early

Neighborhood organizations work to get out the vote

drops off his ballot
Mike Seaworth drops off his ballot on Oct. 23 at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, one of 13 drop-off sites citywide. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

By the time in-person polls open on Tuesday, Nov. 3, more than half of registered voters in many Southwest Minneapolis precincts will have already cast their ballots.

Through Oct. 26, more than 125,000 of the city’s 271,049 pre-registered voters had cast ballots, according to Minneapolis Election and Voter Services. Southwest’s Ward 13 leads the city with 58% of ballots returned, and more than 45% of registered voters from each ward in the Southwest area have cast their votes.

Earlier in the fall, Minneapolis had encouraged residents to vote by mail, according to City Clerk Casey Carl, and the city has sent out over 160,000 absentee ballots.

But now — with Election Day fast approaching and a recent court order putting mailed early ballots delivered after Election Day at risk of not being counted — officials are encouraging residents not to mail in their absentee ballots but to submit them at one of 13 drop-off stations in the city, where ballots can be deposited until 3 p.m. on Nov. 3. In Southwest, drop-off sites are at the Kmart parking lot at Lake & Nicollet, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church at 50th & Knox and St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church at 35th & Irving. See tinyurl.com/drop-off-mpls for details.

Minneapolis voters can also cast ballots between now and Nov. 2 at four in-person Early Vote Centers. See tinyurl.com/early-vote-mpls for details.

The 2020 election comes at a pivotal moment for a nation suffering from a surging coronavirus pandemic and seeking to express itself at the ballot box for the first time since the Minneapolis police slaying of George Floyd sparked massive protests across the country.

Voters in Minneapolis will play a role in deciding if President Donald Trump is elected for a second term and whether to send incumbent DFLer Tina Smith or Republican challenger Jason Lewis to the Senate. Ballots will also be cast for the state Legislature, for competitive local School Board races and for two municipal referendums regulating city elections for the next decade. See the Southwest Journal’s full voter’s guide.

Southwest resident Katie Florin dropped off her ballot at St. Mary’s on Oct. 23 because she wanted to avoid lines on Election Day and not create delays for others. The Joe Biden voter said she was glad there was a place to deposit her absentee ballot.

“I wanted to bring it in person,” she said.

Lindsey Howell votes on Oct. 23 at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church
Minneapolis resident Lindsey Howell votes on Oct. 23 at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church. There are 13 ballot drop-off stations in the city, including three in Southwest — Mount Olivet, the Kmart parking lot and St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Grace Wachlarowicz, director of elections and voter services for Minneapolis, said the city is prepared to safely accommodate voters if they choose to cast ballots on Election Day. Even with high absentee numbers, officials believe there will be plenty who show up Nov. 3. “Voters are very engaged, voters are tuned in, [voters] are paying attention and voters are turning out in record numbers,” Carl said.

But Southwest neighborhood organizations aren’t taking that perceived enthusiasm for granted. Despite the ongoing pandemic, they are pushing local efforts to boost voter turnout.

In the Wedge, the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) has put out yard signs, flyered the area and is planning another major round of flyering on Halloween, according to Kari Johnson, who is coordinating the effort.

In 2018, 88% of Wedge residents voted, a remarkably high turnout rate for a midterm election that was boosted in part by the neighborhood organization initiating its first major get-out-the-vote campaign. This year, the goal is 92%, and while the assumption is that turnout will be high in 2020, Johnson said it’s important for LHENA to put out constant reminders for residents in a majority-renter neighborhood where people move often.

“Supporting get-out-the-vote efforts creates a more engaged community,” Johnson said. The neighborhood organization has also hosted candidate forums for local races like those for the School Board and hopes larger participation and awareness this year will carry over to municipal elections in 2021.

When LHENA was starting to set up its voter turnout program in 2018, it sought advice from the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA), which has long had a robust vote-promotion campaign.

Scott Mueller was part of the group that launched those efforts back in 2012.

All Kingfield residents vote at Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 40th & Nicollet, which makes the neighborhood’s sign campaign simple and effective. Now about 700 signs in neighborhood yards remind people “We are Kingfield. We vote at MLK Park.” Each election year, the group swaps out the date on the sign.

“Our model is pretty simple,” Mueller said. “It’s a yard sign or poster that clearly defines the border of where we vote.”

The KFNA typically hosts a robust “polling party” with pavilion tents set up outside of MLK Park where people can grab a free cup of coffee or a snack donated from a local restaurant after casting their ballots. The party serves as a place where KFNA can sign people up for community notices and get to know new neighbors.

Trained volunteers at the parties can help people with questions, and Mueller said it’s been worth the effort. During the Aug. 11 primary, he was able to help a new resident register to vote by finding a neighbor to vouch that the man lived at his address.

This year, the pandemic means the polling party will be smaller than normal and will stick to just giving away coffee. But the group will still have a guarded crosswalk at 41st & Nicollet and hopes to connect with some neighbors. Mueller expects most voters will cast their ballots via mail or early drop-off, but said MLK Park will still be a safe, fun place to vote.