MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In-person voting opened Friday in Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming for midterm elections, kicking off a six-week sprint to Election Day in a landscape that has changed dramatically since the pandemic shifted voting by mail in the 2020 presidential election. year.

Twenty people voted in the first hour as Minneapolis opened its early voting center, taking advantage of generous rules that election officials credit as Minnesota’s lead in voter turnout. First through the doors was Konrad Zbikowski, a 29-year-old communications and digital technology consultant who said he had been voting early since 2017.

“I like to vote early because you never know what can happen on Election Day,” Zbikowski said, displaying his civic pride in a City of Lakes sailboat logo T-shirt. “You can get sick, you can get COVID, you can get into a car accident, a lot of things can happen. But what you can control is being able to vote early and get that ballot.”

The launch of in-person voting comes as the country continues to grapple with the fallout almost two years of false statements that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump due to widespread fraud and manipulation of voting machines. Those conspiracy theories, promoted by a constellation of Trump campaign allies on social media and at conferences held across the country have had a profound effect on public confidence in US elections.

They also led to a tightening of rules governing mail-in voting in several Republican-led states and an exodus of savvy voters who faced a barrage of harassment and threats after the 2020 election.

But nearly two years after that election, no evidence has emerged to suggest widespread fraud or manipulation reviews in state after state confirmed the results showing the victory of President Joe Biden.

Saturday is also the deadline for election officials to send ballots to their military and overseas voters. North Carolina began sending out recall ballots on September 9.

Early in-person voting is available in 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. States can use different ways to describe it, some call it absentee voting or advance voting. In some cases, it depicts voting on Election Day at polling stations equipped with poll workers and voting machines. Elsewhere, voters request, fill out, and present a ballot in person at their local election office.

Early voting deadlines vary by state, with some offering as few as three days and others extending up to 46 days. According to the Conference of Legislatures, the average is 23 days.

Voting this year will take place in a much different environment than two years ago, when the coronavirus caused a huge increase in the use of postal ballots as voters sought to avoid crowded polling stations. States have adopted policies to promote voting by mail, with several states choosing to mail ballots to all registered voters, while others have expanded the use of ballot boxes.

While some made these changes permanent, others rolled them back. Georgia, for example, will have fewer ballot boxes this year and introduce ID requirements for mail-in voting under legislation pushed by Republican state lawmakers.

In Wyoming, a steady stream of voters filed into Cheyenne’s lone early voting precinct, which was a shelter from the wind that toppled a “Vote Here” sign. By noon, about 60 people had voted there, Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee said.

“There’s less people and we don’t have to worry,” said early voter Brent Dolens of Cheyenne. “Everything goes faster and you don’t have to wait as long.”

Unlike elsewhere in the U.S., poll workers in Laramie County have not been threatened or harassed, Lee said, but they have received many questions from voters about the machines and the county’s only ballot box.

“They really look at things and ask questions,” Lee said. “In a good way. You know, the desire for information. They are interested.”

Minnesota’s election ballot includes races for governor and other state offices, as well as control of the legislature.

Zbikowski refused to say who he voted for. But he said he doesn’t take the right to vote for granted, given that his family came to America from Russia when there were no free elections. As a part-time employee — he was not working Friday — he said he has seen Minnesota’s security measures firsthand and has every confidence in the integrity of the process.

Other early voters include Ronald Johnson and his wife, Judith Vail, who voted for the first time on Election Day 2020. They both said they voted the Democratic ticket.

“It feels like the election is so important, life is so busy, I just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible,” Johnson said.

Johnson, a 74-year-old mental health counselor, said he wants to support candidates who preserve Minnesota’s election system, which he says has integrity.

He said he “absolutely” supports state Secretary of Elections Steve Simon over Republican challenger Kim Crockett, who called the 2020 election a “train wreck” and advocated a return to voting, preferably on election day. Simon, on the contrary, calls the 2020 election “fundamentally fair, honest, accurate and safe” and defends the changes he observed make voting safer during a pandemic.

“We really care about protecting democracy,” Weil, 73, said.

Aaron Bomarita, a 48-year-old teacher who also said he voted on the Democratic ticket, said he’s not worried about his vote being counted correctly and has “absolute confidence in the system.” He said the early vote was a spontaneous decision. He was just passing by the polling station and took advantage of the moment.

“I took my two kids to school and the ‘Vote Here’ sign was the next thing I saw,” he said.

Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press reporter Mead Gruver contributed to this story from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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