Newspaper article

2016 Was the First Presidential Election in Minnesota with No Excuse Absentee and Early Voting. How Did That Go?

Newspaper article

2016 Was the First Presidential Election in Minnesota with No Excuse Absentee and Early Voting. How Did That Go?

Article excerpt

In the days and weeks leading up to the election, Minnesotans filled social media with pictures and posts about voting early.

All this fanfare around early voting is new for Minnesotans: this was the first presidential election in which they could vote absentee without an excuse, thanks to a law passed in 2013 designed to make voting more convenient, and a law passed in May that allows voters to feed their ballot into a tabulating machine at a voting center up to a week before the election.

Ultimately, nearly one in four Minnesotans who voted did so before Election Day, according to the most recent numbers from the Minnesota Secretary of State.

This election was Minnesota's first real test run of early voting (In 2014, there was no presidential election and turnout was relatively low). How did it go?

Did early voting increase turnout?

One thing's for sure, said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon: Minnesotans seemed to like having the option to cast ballots early.

In 2012, before the no-excuse absentee reform passed, just 9 percent of Minnesotans voted absentee. This year, more than twice that share of voters did.

"People were excited by this option -- this choice, this new way to vote -- and really took to it ... not just took to it, but were perhaps persuaded to vote where they otherwise might not," Simon said.

It's tough to put a number on how much early voting actually affected turnout here. The state was already really good at voter turnout. For ten of the last 11 election cycles, Minnesota has walked away with first place among U.S. states in terms of the percentage of eligible voters who voted in the election.

As of Tuesday morning, 74.7 percent of eligible Minnesota voters turned out to vote, one way or another, in last week's election, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State. That's lower than Minnesota's turnout in 2012 -- 76.4 percent, but overall turnout nationally was lower in 2016. In 2012, an estimated 58.6 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. voted, compared to 58.1 percent this year, according to the United States Elections Project, a website where University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald tracks voter turnout.

In recent decades, many states have reformed voting laws to make it easier for citizens to cast ballots. Today, no excuse early voting is available in 37 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Studies show mixed effects of early voting on turnout, said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Some find no effect, and many find negative effects. Others have found early voting increases turnout by between 2 and 4 percent.

While voter turnout this year was down from four years ago, it could have been down more without early voting: In his research, Burden has found that a combination of early voting and same-day registration like Minnesota has would be more likely to increase turnout. …

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