3 things to know: Voting early in Minnesota starts Friday

It's election season in Minnesota.

Early voting started Friday, 46 days before the Nov. 8 midterm election. This year, all four statewide offices, 201 seats in the state Legislature, and eight congressional districts are up for grabs.

Voters who had already made up their minds trickled into election offices across the state to fill in ballots. Whether you plan to vote early or on Election Day, here's what you need to know.

Changes from 2020

There are some key differences from the last time most Minnesotans voted in 2020.

If you're mailing in your absentee ballot, you'll need a witness signature before sending it in. The state waived that requirement in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's back this year.

You'll also need to get your ballot in the mail early enough so elections officials receive it by Nov. 8. The one-week grace period in 2020 is gone this year.

RELATED: Early voting in Minnesota: Everything you need to know for 2022 midterms

There are two other ways to return your absentee ballot. You can drop it off at your local election office during business hours or use a drop box, if your municipality has one. Because of a 2021 state law, the Secretary of State's office now posts drop box locations on its website. Keep in mind, there are fewer drop boxes than in 2020.

"My sense is there were some in 2020 that did drop boxes because of COVID that are not doing it (now)," Secretary of State Steve Simon told reporters this week. "I don’t know if it’s a matter of pressure as just their citizens don’t need it as much as they did during the height of COVID with no vaccine."

You can also head to your local elections office to vote early in-person. And you can track the status of your ballot online.

Fewer early votes

It's unlikely that Minnesota will approach the 2020 record for early votes.

That year, driven by a desire to avoid crowds during the pandemic, 1.9 million Minnesotans voted early. That was nearly three times the previous record of 676,000 set four years earlier.

During this year's primary, a larger percentage of voters showed up on the day of the election. That trend is likely to continue in November, election officials have said.

Parties have different strategies

Both parties used Friday as an opportunity to convey urgency to their supporters about the election. They did so in different ways, reflecting the split opinions about early voting.

Democrats held a kickoff event in St. Paul with most of their statewide candidates to encourage backers to vote as early as possible.

Republicans didn't hold a similar event. The GOP's candidate for governor, Scott Jensen, recorded a video where he encouraged his supporters to get ready to vote early or on Election Day.

Early voting is advantageous for both parties. It's money in the bank, allowing candidates to focus their time and campaign resources on undecided voters instead of coaxing their own supporters to the polls.

But Kim Crockett, the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, has called for the 46-day window to be cut down.

"Why are voters asked to decide 6 weeks before Election Day?" Crockett says on her campaign website. "How much does that cost taxpayers, and burden election officials? Instead of 46 long days of 'early voting' let’s return to a reasonable week or two before Election Day."

Simon, a Democrat, supports the 46-day window, and says Minnesota's voting laws help facilitate the state's first-in-the-nation voter turnout numbers.