Primary elections are known for low turnout.
“It would be surprising if it’s over 15 percent,” Olmsted County Election Administrator Pam Fuller said.
However, in recent days the traffic has increased at the county’s election office. While mail-in ballots are arriving daily, so are people who walk through the door at 1421 Third Ave. SE in Rochester.
Eighty in-person voters were seen Tuesday, an uptick from traffic that was below 30 a day two weeks earlier.
Mark Krupski, director of Olmsted County Property Records and Licensing, attributed some of the increase to recent candidate forums featuring the three Rochester races on primary ballots.
“Whenever that happens, there is an uptick,” he said.
Rochester has seven mayoral candidates, as well as five council candidates in Ward 5 and four in Ward 1.
As of Wednesday morning, 809 early ballots were submitted, which already outnumbers the 673 cast in 2016. In 2014, the first year of no-excuse absentee voting, 990 absentee ballots were cast in the primary election.
In Winona County, Auditor-Treasurer Sandra Suchla also pointed to a crowded election for an increase in early voting.
Seven candidates have filed to fill two seats on the Winona School Board as the district faces a variety of difficult choices.
“It’s a little busier than I remember for the 2016 primary,” she said, noting approximately 170 ballots have been received so far.
Amanda Kiefer, Mower County’s deputy of vital records and elections, also predicted a greater pre-election turnout than in 2016.
So far, she said 121 voters have cast absentee ballots, compared to a total of 157 in the primary two years ago. She said some of the increase could be attributed to more precincts being mailed ballots this election.
Non-metropolitan townships and cities with less than 400 registered voters can choose to hold elections by mail, rather than opening polling places. This year, Mower County has 13 precincts using the option, up from three in 2016.
Many of the local increases are in line with what is being seen statewide.
The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office reported absentee ballots cast were up by 151 percent over 2016 as of July 26.
“Vote from home absentee voting has been growing in popularity since 2013 when it was passed into law in Minnesota,” Secretary of State Steve Simon said. “More than halfway through the early absentee voting phase of the 2018 statewide primary election, I am thrilled at the growth we are seeing in voter participation in all corners of Minnesota. Minnesota voters in 2018 are well on their way to maintaining our best-in-the-nation status for voter participation.”
All local counties aren’t seeing the same increases.
Carrie Huffman, who works in the Fillmore County Auditor-Treasurer’s office, said the county has seen some numbers rise, but is not seeing a large impact.
The same was reported by Michelle Quinn, Houston County auditor, who noted only one local race is listed on the primary ballot, with three candidate seeking the Houston County Board’s Fourth District seat.
The primary election is Aug. 14, with in-person absentee voting available at election offices until 5 p.m. Aug. 13. Offices are also required to be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 11, the last Saturday before the election.
Krupski noted Olmsted County’s offices are expanding hours on Tuesday and Thursday next week. While voting at the 1421 Third Ave. SE site is typically open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, hours will be extended to 8 p.m. on Aug. 7 and Aug. 9.