Voters will head to the polls to cast the first in-person ballots in the Democratic presidential primary season on Friday — but not in Iowa's famous first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Thanks to generous early-voting laws, Iowa's neighbor to the north, Minnesota, has the distinction of offering the first chance for any voter to turn out and cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential campaign.
The results won't be released until the state's official Election Day, March 3, also known as Super Tuesday, which comes a month after Iowa's Feb. 3 caucuses.
"Our state is emerging as a major battleground this election, and we are seeing voters across the state tuning in early and getting engaged in response to that," said the chairman of the state's Democratic Party, Ken Martin.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is hoping for a late surge to boost her presidential campaign, is holding campaign events around the state, while Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., will campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Polling is sparse in Minnesota. The most recent survey, released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Cook Political Report in early November, showed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts out front at 25 percent, trailed by favorite daughter Klobuchar at 15 percent, former Vice President Joe Biden at 14 percent and Sanders, who won the state's 2016 presidential caucuses, at 13 percent.
Minnesota's early voting is a reminder that even though most observers are counting down until Iowa, some votes will be cast before then, no matter what strategies or surprises the candidates and the political fates have in store during the next few weeks.
Some absentee ballots for certain voters who qualify may have been sent out even earlier, but Minnesota will offer the first chance for anyone to vote early in person.
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Early voting has been on the rise as more states offer the option to more voters, along with an expansion of voting by mail. The number of Americans who voted early more than doubled from 2004 to 2016, climbing from about 10 million to 24 million, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency tasked with improving election administration.
A handful of states will start offering voters a chance to weigh in before Iowa. North Dakota will allow voters who qualify to request mail-in caucus ballots starting Monday, which the state Democratic Party noted means some voters will return ballots before Iowa.
"Early voting makes our caucus more accessible and encourages new voters to participate — both longstanding Dem-NPL goals," Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said in a statement, using the common name of the state party, which is officially known as the North Dakota Democratic–Nonpartisan League Party.
The most populous state, California, which votes on Super Tuesday, will start shipping out millions of vote-by-mail ballots on the same day as the Iowa caucuses. Some California officials have even speculated that more people will vote in California than in Iowa on Feb. 3, given its enormous population.
If they change their minds or something changes in the next few weeks, however, Minnesotans who voted early will have a chance to claw back their ballots before Super Tuesday. Just in case.
CORRECTION (Jan. 17, 2020, 5:18 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the date when voters can request mail-in ballots in North Dakota.