ST. PAUL — Election officials in the state's most populous county said they're seeing substantial demand for absentee voting ahead of the general election and are fighting misinformation around how voters cast those ballots at home or in-person.

Hennepin County election officials on Thursday, Oct. 8, said they'd issued around 440,000 absentee ballots in the county, which include mailed and in-person submissions, and had accepted 184,000 to date. Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms said the county recorded a new record in registered voters at 826,000.

Gelms also noted that an increasing number of voters had opted to vote in-person because they believed mailed-in ballots were only counted in close elections. And she said several voters returned mailed absentee ballots to polling locations to trade them in for in-person ballots out of concerns about the mailed ballot not getting counted.

Gelms said mailed ballots and ballots cast in-person would be counted in the same way and were stored together in secure settings.

“The ballots that are issued absentee in-person or early vote in-person, they are treated exactly the same as ballots that are sent through the mail and returned to us through the mail,” Gelms said. “We want to assure people that if you received a ballot through the mail it is just as safe to vote that ballot and send it back through the mail as it is to come to an in-person voting location.”

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials have encouraged Minnesotans to vote from home to prevent the spread of the illness. And the state got approval to extend the deadline to count absentee ballots. Absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be counted up to seven days after Election Day.

While early absentee ballots took a couple days longer than expected to reach voters, Gelms said, mailed ballots are swiftly reaching voters and the county has not reported significant concerns about delays in mailing them back. Gelms recommended that those interested in voting absentee from home request a ballot and mail it in as soon as they can to ensure it makes it back in time to be counted.

Election officials around the state will be able to begin counting absentee ballots two weeks ahead of Election Day, but results won't be made public until that night and final results likely won't be known until days after the election.