ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Minnesota voters will go to the polls Tuesday to vote in the state’s primary election, though many have already done so absentee. The late-season primary in the blue-turned-battleground state has several races to watch, and will serve as the state’s first taste of elections under Covid-19.
Over 624,000 Minnesotans have requested absentee ballots for the socially-distant election as of Aug. 7, up from only 37,000 at the same time in 2016, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The deluge has already begun: the Secretary of State’s office reported Friday that approximately 375,000 of those mail-in ballots had already been received and processed, easing but not completely alleviating concerns that results could be delayed past election night.
Minnesota is a no-excuse state for absentee voting, so many of those who plan to vote by mail would have been able to do so with no changes, but Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon has nevertheless agreed to remove a witness requirement for mail-in ballots in both the primary and general elections.
Altered polling places and reduced staff for in-person voting have also been points of concern for the election, bolstering calls for mail-in balloting.
While the primary includes all partisan elected offices down-ballot of the presidency, the race bound to gain the most national attention is the 5th Congressional District, where Representative Ilhan Omar faces four Democratic challengers.
Omar, who has garnered national attention as a fierce progressive and member of “The Squad,” has been targeted by challenger Antone Melton-Meaux for her critiques of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, a low attendance record and what he has called a penchant to chase celebrity rather than focus on her constituents.
Omar has pushed back on those contentions, pointing to her record of prolific contributions to legislation. Her campaign has also brought attention to Melton-Meaux’s past as a corporate lawyer for Jackson Lewis, an employment-law firm which has faced criticism for aiding union-busting, an affront to one of the DFL’s major support bases.
University of Minnesota political science professor Michael Minta said he suspects Omar has the edge in the race. “When she ran the first time, she had some strong challengers in the primary, and she still won fairly convincingly,” he said. “My suspicion is that she’s still going to pull it out, because she’s still more well-known.”
Polls have been sparse, but have consistently shown Omar leading, with differences in the size of that lead.
Omar started with a financing lead, but Melton-Meaux has closed the financing gap in recent months, raising $3.2 million from April through June while Omar raised only $472,000. An ad rush by Melton-Meaux early in July was met by a spate of pro-Omar ads shortly thereafter. Both candidates have fundraised upwards of $4 million in total.
Both candidates have also been the subject of Federal Elections Commission complaints. The Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor party filed one against Melton-Meaux last week, alleging that his campaign had used shell companies to obscure the identity of political consultants aiding his campaign. An older complaint against Omar alleges that payments to the E Street Group, a consulting firm owned by Omar’s now-husband, Tim Mynett, were improper.
Each has had other scandals. Omar’s critiques of Israel and the U.S.’s support of it have often wandered into anti-semitic tropes, which has drawn fire from conservatives and from Minnesota’s Jewish community. Meanwhile, Melton-Meaux has faced criticism for past writings regarding Black Lives Matter and how employers should handle sexual harassment claims, writings he stood by in a recent interview.
As candidates of color in a city and time where issues of race are at the forefront of political dialogue, Omar and Melton-Meaux have also both received endorsements from Minneapolis’ prominent civil rights activists, with Attorney General and former 5th District Representative Keith Ellison backing Omar and onetime NAACP head Nekima Levy-Armstrong backing Melton-Meaux.