The Five Reasons Why Voter Turnout in Minnesota Is So High

By Briana Bierschbach; Greta Kaul | MinnPost.com, September 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Five Reasons Why Voter Turnout in Minnesota Is So High


Briana Bierschbach; Greta Kaul, MinnPost.com


Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is not afraid to exploit Minnesota's superiority complex.

For nine election cycles in a row, Minnesota voters turned out to the polls more than any other state in the nation. In fact, the state actually holds the all-time record for turnout, when 78 percent of registered voters showed up to cast a ballot in the 2004 election.

Voter turnout among eligible voters in Minnesota since 1950

"If you heard about an athlete who won nine MVP awards in a row, or an actor or actress who won nine Oscars in a row, you would say, 'Wow, that is a mind-blowing winning streak,'" said Simon, whose office is in charge of overseeing elections in Minnesota.

But in the 2014 midterm election, the state fell from number one in the U.S. for overall turnout to number six. Now, Simon is traveling the state, issuing a singular challenge to Minnesotans: Bring the state back to number one in voter turnout.

Presidential election year turnout among eligible voters

Simon's doing everything he can think of to get the word out. He's teamed up with the state's professional sports teams to make ads encouraging people to vote; he's started a competition between college campuses to see which student government groups can register the most people to vote; and he's targeting nearly-voting-age students, setting up the first-ever statewide mock election with nearly 300 participating high schools.

But even if Minnesotans go to the polls in record numbers in November, it still won't explain a fundamental question: Why, exactly, do they show up in such large numbers in the first place -- and what happened in 2014?

Easy access to the ballot

When it comes to high voter turnout, Simon is quick to cite the state's long history of clean elections and its emphasis on making it easy for people to access the ballot. After all, he helped write some of those laws during his decade in the Minnesota House before running for secretary of state in 2014.

But one of the biggest changes, he argues, occurred all the way back in 1974, when Minnesota became the second state to allow same- day voter registration (after Maine). Today, 13 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing for same-day registration. In those states, voters can register to vote at their polling place on Election Day instead of submitting their information ahead of time. In the 2012 election, about 18 percent of Minnesota voters -- or 527,867 people -- registered at their polling location.

Proponents argue that same-day registration increases voter turnout by eliminating arbitrary deadlines that cut off registration when voters are most interested -- usually a week or two before the election. According to a study from Demos, a public policy group that supports same-day registration, such laws increase turnout from 3 percent to 6 percent. And Pew Charitable Trusts found that in states with same-day registration one in eight voters used it in the 2012 election.

"In some states, if you don't register by mid-October, that's it. You're out. You missed the cutoff to vote," Simon said. "In Minnesota you can roll out of bed that day, go right to the polling place and register. We sort of take that for granted."

In Ohio and Texas, for example, voters must be registered to vote by mail or in person by Oct. 11. Those states also don't have online voter registration, a 2014 change Minnesotans seem to like: Nearly 47,000 people registered to vote online over the last week alone, Simon said, shattering previous registration records.

There are other new voting laws that Simon is watching this fall to see how they impact voter turnout. They include early voting, which allows Minnesotans to cast their ballots in person at participating polling places a week before the election. Simon also helped pass a new no-excuse absentee voting law. Previously, Minnesotans had to have a valid excuse if they wanted to mail in their ballot early, but now all Minnesotans can vote more than 40 days before the election via an absentee ballot. …

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