Minnesota Parties Watching Polls Like Never Before
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Tens of thousands of voters are getting calls urging support or opposition of Minnesota’s gay marriage amendment. Hundreds of lawyers are gearing up to scrutinize voting like never before. And political candidates are making last-minute pleas for support on the eve of Election Day.
Monday was a busy day for political parties, volunteers and candidates statewide as they prepared for Tuesday, and the stakes are high.
Democrats are hoping to wrest control of the Legislature after last year’s government shutdown. Republicans are trying to win a presidential election in the state for the first time since 1972, as well as protect Rep. Chip Cravaack in a northeastern Minnesota district targeted by Democrats.
Voters also must decide the two hotly contested questions of whether voters should have to show photo identification and whether marriage should be defined in the Minnesota Constitution as a union only between a man and a woman.
Dozens of volunteers on both sides of the gay marriage amendment were busily calling voters statewide Monday. Gay marriage bans have passed in 30 states where they have been on the ballot.
At the headquarters of pro-amendment group Minnesota for Marriage near Minneapolis, spokeswoman Autumn Leva said the campaign was keeping close to its goal of placing 100,000 calls a day in the last 10 days before the election.
“There are yes’s and there are no’s. Some people get angry. Some say they’re excited to go vote,” said Josiah Jackson, one of about a dozen volunteers at one of the group’s six phone banks in the Twin Cities.
Working against the amendment, Minnesotans United for All Families set up numerous get-out-the-vote centers to mobilize phone bankers and door knockers. Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom said the campaign had placed about 513,000 calls in four days and knocked on about 194,000 doors as of Sunday night.
“But that’s not enough,” he told a group of volunteers at an Edina church.
In the closely watched race for the 8th District, where Cravaack won in 2010, the congressman was campaigning Monday on the northern fringes of the Twin Cities as Democratic challenger Rick Nolan reached out to voters in Duluth, the district’s biggest city. Outside groups have spent nearly $9 million on the race so far, making it one of the nation’s most expensive U.S. House contests.
And in another high-profile race, former GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann visited campaign offices throughout the 6th District, north and west of the Twin Cities. Democrat Jim Graves spent his time in the St. Cloud area, around his home base.
The parties, meanwhile, were planning unprecedented poll-watching efforts after back-to-back statewide recounts that benefited Democrats. In 2010, it was in the governor’s race between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer; two years earlier, it was the U.S. Senate race between then-Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, and Democrat Al Franken.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said the DFL has more than 500 lawyers enlisted in its effort, plus a team of 20 lawyers at party headquarters and an election hotline for voters who encounter problems getting a ballot.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge said the GOP also has lawyers standing by to help more poll watchers than ever. He said Republicans have learned from losing both recounts, and that election watchers aim to stop ineligible ballots before they’re cast.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicted that about 3 million Minnesota residents would vote in the election, on par for voter turnout of slightly less than 80 percent in recent presidential elections. Ritchie said 235,000 absentee ballots had been accepted as of Monday morning. Voters could cast absentee ballots in person at county and city offices until 5 p.m. Monday, usually the heaviest day of absentee voting.
Ritchie said the number of voter challenges has dropped since the state adopted a law after the 2004 election requiring challengers to be from Minnesota and swear to personal knowledge of a challenge. But outside groups are planning to be active anyway, as the debate over the voter ID amendment heightened awareness of aspects of Minnesota’s election system such as Election Day voter registration, absentee voting and vouching for voters in the same precinct.
A group called Election Integrity Watch urged voters to watch for suspicious activities and call a hotline if they saw anything questionable, saying Minnesota’s system was “the most lax” in the nation. Common Cause Minnesota planned to station 200 volunteers outside polling places in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Virginia and Morris to help voters who encounter problems.
More than half a million Minnesotans are expected to register to vote at the polls on Tuesday.
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