“Voting… allows you to impact your future.” Early voting begins in Minnesota, and thousands of Minnesotans are newly eligible to go to the polls
It was a busy day at the Early Voting Center in Minneapolis.
“I have to come out and make sure that my voice is heard,” declared Ayan Warsame. “Because everything that’s important is on the ballot.”
A City of Minneapolis spokesperson says 381 people came to vote in person, and 1194 ballots were mailed out.
It’s the second-highest first day at the center for a municipal election, which recorded 571 in-person votes in 2017.
“We’re seeing a really good turnout for the first day of the municipal this time around,” explains Katie Smith, Director of Elections and Voter Services for the City of Minneapolis. “I just love working in elections, and I love the atmosphere when people get energized to come out to vote.”
Watching all this closely, is Antonio Williams, released from prison in 2020, after serving a fourteen-year sentence on an aiding and abetting homicide charge.
“Voting, exercising your re-enfranchisement allows you to impact your future in a way you don’t know yet,” he declares. “It’s exciting. This is the first time I’ve been able to participate in my democracy in such an intimate way.”
We first met Williams, now 37, in March— shortly after Governor Tim Walz signed the Felon Voting Rights bill.
The new law means people convicted of felonies will be able to vote immediately after they’re released— no more waiting until after they finish probation or parole.
“Not only do I get to vote for the first time, I’m encouraging other people to vote, and I’m educating people on why it’s important to vote,” Williams says.
He notes before the law’s passage, he would have had to wait until June 2025, when he gets off parole.
Williams’ non-profit— ‘Tone-Up’—- short for ‘Teaching Ourselves New Examples to Uplift People’— is helping other formerly incarcerated people to navigate the voting process.
“Many of us are voting for the first time, and also helping other people vote for the first time,” he notes. “Where is your polling place, who are the people on your ballot, what does a ballot look like. How do you need to dress? These are things that people have anxiety around, who never participated in this process.”
The Secretary of State’s Office says the new law means that at least 55,000 formerly incarcerated people will be able to cast ballots.
It’s the largest expansion since the voting age was lowered to 18.
Also, this year— 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote, so they can be ready to cast their ballots when they turn 18.
Warsame says timing was a big part of why she decided to vote early.
“Have you seen the lines on the last day?” she says. “I mean, it could be around the block if you can get in early and vote. The more now, the better, it’s going to be so much easier, take you five minutes.”
Williams credits The Power of People Leadership Institute for educating him and other formally incarcerated people about voting rules.
The non-profit has been doing outreach work at prisons for nearly two decades.
Now, Williams is paying it forward.
He’s not planning on voting early— instead, he’s among a group of formerly incarcerated people who say they’re waiting to vote until Election Day, November 7th— as a kind of celebration.
“It’s not just about this election or the following presidential election that’s coming,” Williams says. “It’s about welcoming our people back into society and providing a pathway towards leadership. A pathway towards wholeness after coming home.”