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Star Tribune: Congrats, Minnesotans: You made the state No. 1 in voter participation

November 22, 2016


“Take a bow, Minnesota voters.”

Star Tribune | Editorial: Congrats, Minnesotans: You made the state No. 1 in voter participation
By Editorial Board, 11/18/16

Take a bow, Minnesota voters. The North Star State once again led the nation in voter turnout on Nov. 8, returning to the civic participation pinnacle to which it has grown accustomed in the four decades since the state instituted Election Day registration.

That’s a heartening showing, particularly in light of this state’s slippage to sixth place among the 50 states in the 2014 midterm election. Better still for bragging rights: Minnesota’s 74.7 percent turnout this year bested the second-ranked state, New Hampshire, where turnout was 72.3 percent. And it’s much better than the national average, a ho-hum 58.1 percent.

More than parochial pride is behind our enthusiasm for these results. High voter turnout lends legitimacy to representative democracy. It allows elected officials to credibly claim a mandate for action, and mitigates the influence of small but noisy special interests. It also serves as a marker of Minnesotans’ civic engagement more generally. A state whose people vote in high numbers is also a state whose people care about their shared quality of life and take personal responsibility for its betterment.

Election Day registration, adopted in 1974, has immeasureably helped Minnesota keep participation high. A recent change made a big difference too, Secretary of State Steve Simon says. The 2013 Legislature’s move to no-excuses absentee voting — and Simon’s work promoting that option — contributed to a surge in the number of people who cast ballots before Election Day, either in person or by mail. More than 674,000 Minnesotans voted early, compared with 235,808 in 2012.

Those two features of Minnesota election law have run into resistance from some in the Republican Party, who claim that they widen the possibility of election fraud. No solid evidence backs that critique. We hope this year’s proof that Republicans can win legislative majorities in high-turnout elections stifles unfounded objections to state policies that make voting more convenient.

One stat should register with this state’s democracy boosters: Despite a good showing, Minnesota’s turnout rate this year was the lowest in a presidential election since 2000. That’s true despite an estimated 18,000 more ballots cast this year than in 2012. (Vote totals won’t be deemed final until county and state canvassing boards complete their work later this month.) Our look at vote totals by congressional district showed slight increases in the Second and Seventh, a bigger gain in the Sixth, and little change elsewhere from 2012.

The turnout rate declined because the growth in the number of Minnesota voters is not keeping pace with the growth in the state’s population. Awareness of that fact should spur efforts by both lawmakers and election administrators to make the habit of voting an easy one to both acquire and maintain.

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