Voters line up as some US states open early voting; Trump, Biden head to Minnesota

Voters wait to cast their ballots in Henrico, Virginia, Sept 18, 2020.
Voters wait to cast their ballots in Henrico, Virginia, Sept 18, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

MINNEAPOLIS (REUTERS) - Voters lined up in Minnesota to cast ballots on Friday (Sept 18) ahead of campaign trips to the state by President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, as early voting began there and in three other states ahead of the Nov 3 election.

Some 44 people cast ballots in the first 30 minutes that the city of Minneapolis’ lone polling center was open, in a state Trump narrowly lost in 2016 but has targeted as a possible pickup this time.

Voters in Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming also began casting in-person ballots on Friday. In Virginia, elections officials in Fairfax and Arlington counties in the Washington suburbs reported heavy turnout, with lines out the door.

Some voters in Minnesota said they were anxious to get an early jump on the process, or to avoid potential crowds on Election Day.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended US election traditions. It has sharply curtailed both candidates’ campaign travel and is expected to bring a surge of early and mail voting as Americans seek to reduce their exposure to crowds that can spread the disease.

“I just wanted to come get it done,” said Jason Miller, 33, a painter who was in line before the site opened to cast a vote for Biden. He said he could not wait to cast a vote against Trump.

“I was a little inspired to come here the first day,” he said. “In fact, probably 3-1/2 years ago I thought I would be here the first day I could.” 

Steve O’Rourke, 65, who came with a son who has to leave the country on a work trip, said he decided to vote early in person rather than by mail partly out of concern whether a mail-in vote would be counted.

“I like to make sure my vote is counted the day of the election,” said O’Rourke, who also supported Biden. “I just wanted to make sure I get my vote in.” 

All of the voters lined up in Minneapolis wore masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

Margie Rukavina, 72, said she was “revved up” to vote for Biden but also was concerned about voting on Election Day given health concerns.

“We want to come early to avoid a super-spreader event, like our president is so happy to do,” she said. Trump has been criticised for holding crowded campaign rallies, often with people not wearing masks.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in Henrico, Virginia, Sept 18, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

The Republican president trails Biden in national opinion polls but is trying to make up ground in Minnesota, which he lost by about 1.5 percentage points to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, while winning neighboring Wisconsin.

Recent opinion polls have given Biden a comfortable lead in Minnesota. The poll-tracking website RealClearPolitics showed Biden up by an average of 10.2 points as of Friday.

Biden’s polling advantage underscores the extent to which the current electoral map favors the former vice president. He leads in all three former industrial “Rust Belt” states that Trump flipped from the Democratic column on his way to victory in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign rally at an airport in Bemidji, Minnesota, in the evening.

In the afternoon, Biden toured a union carpenter training center in Hermantown, a suburb of the Lake Superior port city of Duluth, where he painted a grim picture of the economic situation in Minnesota’s iron ore mining region, saying the coronavirus has driven up unemployment figures.

He blamed Trump for the sustained economic downturn, arguing the president has done little to contain the health crisis.

“Trump has given up on even pretending to do his job,” Biden said.

Minnesota was the flashpoint for a national reckoning on race relations, when George Floyd, a Black man, died after a white Minneapolis policeman kneeled on his neck for minutes even after he appeared to lose consciousness.

The killing sparked widespread civil unrest that has lasted for months and further rattled a nation already besieged by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 196,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

Trump has responded to the demonstrations by vowing to maintain “law and order” while portraying many of the protesters as far-left radicals who would be further empowered by a Biden victory.

Biden has denounced the violence at some protests while expressing support for the protesters’ objections to racism and police brutality. He has blamed Trump’s divisive rhetoric for inflaming the situation.