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Legal uncertainty fuels lines at Minnesota polling stations

November 2, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this March 16, 2018 file photo, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses election security issues in his St. Paul, Minn. office. Minnesota will waive its witness requirements for absentee ballots for the statewide primary election in August under the settlement of two lawsuits sparked by the health threat from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuits were filed by political arms of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans. A Ramsey County judge signed off on the consent decree with the retirees Wednesday, June 17, 2020 while a federal judge scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the league's case. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski,File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2018 file photo, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses election security issues in his St. Paul, Minn. office. Minnesota will waive its witness requirements for absentee ballots for the statewide primary election in August under the settlement of two lawsuits sparked by the health threat from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuits were filed by political arms of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans. A Ramsey County judge signed off on the consent decree with the retirees Wednesday, June 17, 2020 while a federal judge scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the league's case. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski,File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2018 file photo, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses election security issues in his St. Paul, Minn. office. Minnesota will waive its witness requirements for absentee ballots for the statewide primary election in August under the settlement of two lawsuits sparked by the health threat from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuits were filed by political arms of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans. A Ramsey County judge signed off on the consent decree with the retirees Wednesday, June 17, 2020 while a federal judge scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the league's case. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski,File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2018 file photo, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses election security issues in his St. Paul, Minn. office. Minnesota will waive its witness requirements for absentee ballots for the statewide primary election in August under the settlement of two lawsuits sparked by the health threat from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuits were filed by political arms of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans. A Ramsey County judge signed off on the consent decree with the retirees Wednesday, June 17, 2020 while a federal judge scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the league's case. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski,File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2018 file photo, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon discusses election security issues in his St. Paul, Minn. office. Minnesota will waive its witness requirements for absentee ballots for the statewide primary election in August under the settlement of two lawsuits sparked by the health threat from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuits were filed by political arms of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans. A Ramsey County judge signed off on the consent decree with the retirees Wednesday, June 17, 2020 while a federal judge scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the league's case. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski,File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Uncertainty sparked by a court ruling late last week has fueled a surge in early voting across Minnesota, with voters lining up Monday at polling stations in Minneapolis and elsewhere to ensure that their ballots will be counted no matter what happens on the legal front.

Secretary of State Steve Simon said more than 1.7 million Minnesotans had voted by Monday morning, or about 58% of the total in the 2016 election, and the tally was growing by the hour. He said the state might break its modern turnout record of nearly 79% in 2004.

“All I know is it’s pretty electric out there right now — on all sides, by the way, he said. “Equal opportunity electricity, I think, on the left, right, red, blue. People are fired up to vote.”

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But election night results will be clouded by a federal appeals court ruling late Thursday. Minnesota had planned to count all absentee ballots received by Nov. 10 as along as they were postmarked by Election Day. A three-judge panel ordered election officials to physically segregate those late-arriving ballots in case of a future court challenge, and signaled that a move to invalidate them stands a good chance of succeeding. That led Simon and other officials to urge voters to drop off their ballots early or vote in person rather than risking the mail arriving in time.

Simon said it appears the ruling applies only to the presidential race, but said it wasn’t certain. He said his office still intends to count properly postmarked ballots and to post fresh results for all races each evening through Nov. 10. It will be up to parties, candidates or others to go to court if they want to challenge ballots that arrive after Nov. 3, he said.

“If the margin in Minnesota is wide, there will be less likelihood of litigation,” he said. “If the margin in Minnesota is slim, there will be more likelihood of litigation.”

State Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said she wasn’t aware of any litigation planned. A spokesman for the state Democratic Party didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

Nearly 339,000 absentee ballots were outstanding as of Monday morning, Simon said. He expected that number to drop as ballots arrive in the mail at election offices Monday and Tuesday, and as voters who requested absentee ballots delivered them or voted in person on Monday or Tuesday.

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The figure accounts for people who asked that their absentee ballots be canceled so they could vote in person instead.

A socially distanced line of more than 75 voters stretched to the end of a city block outside an early voting center in a heavily Democratic neighborhood of Minneapolis on Monday afternoon. Volunteers handed out snacks to residents who decided not to wait for Election Day or gamble with mailing in absentee ballots.

Erik Carbonell, a 22-year-old nursing student, said he had always intended to vote in person but the court ruling reaffirmed his decision “100%.”

“I’m not particularly fond of everything (Joe) Biden has done or stands for, but in my opinion he will be a better president than what we currently have,” Carbonell said.

Lily Carlson, 70, said she normally votes on Election Day but cast her ballot for Biden on Monday. She said her safety concerns amid the pandemic were outweighed by concerns over whether a mail-in ballot would be counted.

“I did have the thought ‘will my vote count?’ even though you can track it,” she said. “I feel the more complex and more things that you have to do, the more possibilities there are for things to go wrong.”