The first votes of the 2020 primary presidential election have been cast in the Midwestern state of Minnesota.
Voters are deciding which Democratic presidential hopeful they want to become the party’s eventual nominee in the November presidential election.
Though Iowa’s contest next month will be the first to announce a candidate as winning the state, early voting began in Minnesota on Friday.
Thousands of early ballots have already been cast.
The nation is fixated on Iowa’s caucus – party-held elections across the state’s precincts – on 3 February as the start of the 2020 election season, but voters from several states will have already had their say by then.
After this primary election process, each party will name their presidential nominee in the summer. Voters will then cast their ballots for the next president of the United States on 3 November.
What is early voting?
Facing frigid temperatures of -2°F (-19°C), voters in Minneapolis – the seat of Minnesota’s largest county – were already arriving to vote at 08:00 local time, when polling stations opened.
“We even had a little bit of a line,” Ginny Gelm, the Hennepin county elections manager, told the BBC.
Over 280 people had cast ballots in person in the county before noon and over 6,000 more had been received by post, Ms Gelm said.
Thirty-eight US states and the District of Columbia allow voters to cast ballots before election day, either in person or by mail.
These ‘absentee’ ballots are often used by soldiers, US personnel overseas, or those not able to get to a poll station on election day.
Though some jurisdictions have already begun accepting ballots by post, Minnesota is the first to open polling stations where voters can turn up.
They have 46 days to vote before the state’s primary election day on 3 March, when over a dozen other states and territories will also hold their primary contests on the so-called ‘Super Tuesday’.
Vermont, Virginia and North Dakota will also open polls for early voters on Saturday.
Early voting has become increasingly popular, though most voters still wait until election day. In 2000, 16% of voters cast early ballots in the general election, compared to nearly 40% in 2016.
Where are the candidates?
Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator who is running for president, campaigned in her home state as polls were open, but others were on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold primary contests next month.
A strong result in the two February races can give a lift to campaigns. Joe Biden, the former vice president, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, are the frontrunners, according to polls.
Though Mr Sanders was not there for the first ballots, Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota congresswoman and supporter, campaigned in the state Friday on his behalf.
Candidates still have a long road ahead. Americans won’t know their next president until the general election on 3 November.