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Packed at the polls: Becker County, greater Minnesota sees increase in absentee, in-person voters at midterms

Voters gather at Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes Nov. 6 to cast ballots in the midterm election. Paula Quam / Tribune1 / 5
Voters fill out their ballots at Trinity Lutheran Tuesday afternoon. Kaysey Price / Tribune2 / 5
The State General Election Ballot had a number of hotly contested seats up for grabs in both state and local elections. Kaysey Price / Tribune3 / 5
Voters fill out in-person absentee ballots at the Becker County Courthouse Monday afternoon. Kaysey Price / Tribune4 / 5
A number of hotly contested issues are on this midterm election's ballot in Becker County, including the Detroit Lakes School bond referendum and Police Department referendum. Kaysey Price / Tribune5 / 5

Minnesota has a lot of counting to do this election season. Election-day and absentee voting both seem to be up in comparison with past midterm elections, sitting somewhere on par with 2016's presidential election numbers.

"It seems like the voter turnout is probably higher than we would have expected," said Roger Josephson, the head judge who has overseen voting at the Trinity Lutheran precinct in Detroit Lakes for the last 12 years. "Often times, a local sheriff's race or a hot mayor's race or something will bring out people, but this year, I think it's just the state races, the governor's race, two U.S. State races."

There are a number of hot issues on the Becker County ballots this year besides the races. Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Mary Hendrickson says they are anticipating a higher voter turnout because of issues like the school bond referendum and police station referendum that are on the ballot. Seats for city council, the Detroit Lakes school board, and the Becker County sheriff are also up for grabs.

In-person absentee ballots are up this year, too, across greater Minnesota as well as in Becker County.

Secretary of State Steve Simon released a report Monday saying absentee voting has increased 129 percent statewide, since the last midterm election, and Becker County's numbers are right on par.

"It has been steady," said Hendrickson, talking about the number of absentee ballots cast so far. "I think it's right in line with the (2016) presidential election, which usually the midterms are half as busy as the presidential."

As of Tuesday afternoon, 2,635 absentee ballots had been cast in Becker County. While that number does include both in-person absentee voting and mail-in absentee ballots, Hendrickson says the foot traffic at the auditor-treasurer's office has been pretty steady for the last couple of weeks.

Minnesotans have been able to vote from home or participate in "no-excuse absentee voting" since 2014, and many have opted to "beat the rush" as one voter put it Monday afternoon at the Becker County Courthouse. Everyone polled at the Becker County Courthouse by the Detroit Lakes Tribune Monday afternoon was a first-time, in-person absentee voter, many of whom cited the ease of access as the reason they decided to cast their ballots early.

Hendrickson says she and her team have been busy with the early voters.

"We do think that the reason for the higher turnout has been not only the weather, but we have hunting season going on," said Hendrickson, adding that she's heard of a few snowbirds taking advantage of the early voting before they leave town for the winter.

Either way, all of Minnesota seems to be feeling the packed polls this midterm election season.

"Early voter participation in Minnesota is at record levels," noted Secretary of State Steve Simon. "Minnesotans are on pace to hold our #1 title for voting participation."