vote

Meet the Americans who voted before the first debate

Election Day has arrived. At least in Minnesota.

There may be 46 days to go before Nov. 8, but on Friday Minnesota and neighboring South Dakota fired the starting pistol in one of the most contentious and transfixing presidential elections in American history.

The first in-person votes used to come in with great fanfare at midnight of Election Day in small New Hampshire towns. Now, Minnesotans and South Dakotans own the first-in-the-nation status, part of a expansion of early voting pushed by President Barack Obama after the 2012 election.

First in line Friday morning at the Hennepin County offices was Matthew Galloway, a 33-year-old “temporarily retired” Democrat sporting a lime green helmet covering a well-manicured manbun with an undercut. Trump is “divisive and a demagogue and his rhetoric is dangerous,” Galloway says, explaining why he biked to the offices early Friday morning. He believes Hillary listens to others and her “policies seek to help people.”

Before the doors opened at 8 a.m., 66-year-old criminal attorney Gwynn Rosen lined up behind Galloway and said she was “really excited to be one of the first women in the United States to be voting for a woman and that’s Hillary.” She was second in line instead of first only because she ran into former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on her way to vote. When she told Rybak that she was aiming to be the first voter, he asked to take a selfie with her for Facebook.

In a real life example of Minnesota Nice, Galloway offered to let Rosen go ahead of him so she could be the first man or woman to vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She gleefully accepted.

After casting her vote, Rosen strutted out in her black leather jacket, red hoodie, white Beats wireless headphones, and proudly stuck on a bright red “I voted” sticker. She told VICE News that she was proud to vote for Clinton and that Republican nominee “Donald Trump is a danger to the United States and everyone in it.”

Minnesota is on the forefront of an Election Day reformation. In 1980, only 5 percent of votes were cast by mail or in person before election day. In 2012, over 25 percent did so and states like Minnesota have expanded early voting programs since then. Local officials in Hennepin County saw early voting totals rise 70 percent in the 2014 midterm elections and expect to receive the most early votes in the county’s history over the next 46 days.

In total, 37 states and the District of Columbia have an early voting period before Election Day and 27 states and the District of Columbia allow any voter to request a mail-in ballot. North Carolina has already mailed out 53,000 ballots to voters. As a result, there will likely be more Americans voting early in 2016 than ever before.

The goal, advocates of early voting argue, is to remove barriers to the ballot box. Voter number three, Somali-American Abdisalan Isse, said so many days of early voting allowed him to take advantage of a rare day off as an airport cart driver to come vote for Clinton.

After dozens of reports of long lines and frustrated voters in the 2012 election, President Obama issued an executive order to establish the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. The commission singled out the expansion of early voting in its key recommendations to “improve the American voter’s experience and promote confidence in the administration of U.S. elections.”

The opponents of this voting revolution argue that a lot can change between now and election day. Clinton and Trump have yet to debate, “October Surprises” could still come, and voters should vote after the campaigns have concluded. In Minnesota, they have countered this argument by allowing voters to change their vote up to a week before November 8th.

A weeks-long Election Day has also transformed presidential campaigns. “You have to run a significantly different campaign—in terms of timing, number of appearances, your paid spend,” David Plouffe, manager of Obama’s 2008 campaign and an informal adviser to Clinton’s, told Bloomberg News last month. “For many people in the campaign that are in early-vote states you don’t care about Election Day.”

Some campaigns use the early voting period to turn out their most reliable supporters and bank as many votes as possible. Others focus on unreliable voters in the hopes that the convenience of early voting will get their ballots in.

In Minnesota, at least, Clinton’s campaign is out-organizing the Trump campaign. Trump’s state chair recently left for Colorado and the state GOP nearly missed placing Trump’sname on the ballot. Even in this supposedly blue state, the Clinton campaign is hosting 34 early vote events this weekend with 500 people. Several calls and emails to the Minnesota GOP about their organizing activities were not returned but a recent RNC memo touting their “ground game” did not include any mention of Minnesota.

Minnesota has already started turning blue for Clinton. Next Thursday, the swing state of Iowa begins voting early. Elections have changed, but America will still need to wait until November 8th to discover the victor.

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