By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesotans are voting early in record numbers. The Minnesota Secretary of State says more than 370,000 people have either cast their ballots or requested absentee ballots.

Add that to 108,000 voters in rural areas who have requested mail ballots and you have nearly half a million Minnesotans who have already voted or are in the process of voting.

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But does this mean a heavier turnout on Election Day? Early voting is shattering records in Hennepin County and across the state for a midterm election. Statewide early voting turnout is up 145 percent compared to the 2014 midterm election.

The stream of early voters in Hennepin County is steady.

“I won’t be here on Election Day, so it’s kind of necessary, but I think I would have anyway,” early voter Tracey Blasenheim said.

A breakdown by county shows the largest increase in early voting is balanced between Republican and Democratic strongholds. In Republican-leaning Anoka County, early voting is up by 225 percent over 2014.

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Olmstead County in southeastern Minnesota where Republicans have increasingly gained ground is up 238 percent. Hennepin County – a Democratic stronghold – is up by 179 percent.

What is not clear is if the increase in early voting will translate into an increase in turnout on Election Day.

“The big question, though, is are these new voters or is it just that voting patterns are changing and people would rather vote early than show up on Election Day,” said Professor Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey School.

With all the volatility this election cycle, a little-known fact is that you can actually change your vote if you vote early up until the close of business on Tuesday, Oct. 30 – one week away from the Nov. 6 election.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office told us the state does not track how many voters request another ballot after voting early.

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Hennepin County officials said these requests are very rare, that they are averaging only about one a day.

Esme Murphy