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OCTOBER 2020

Getting out the vote, part 1: Voter turnout

alt textMegan Chmielewski

We are entering an election unlike any other in recent American history, as citizens head to the polls in the middle of a global pandemic.

Compass has put together a three-part series on recent trends in Minnesota’s voting patterns and what could change. First, we are focusing on turnout.


Minnesota leads the nation in eligible voter turnout

With the exception of the 2014 midterms, Minnesota has had the highest voter turnout rate in the United States in every national election in the past 15 years. At 74% turnout in 2016, and 64% in the 2018 midterms, Minnesotans take their role as voters seriously.

Map of US voter turnout

Voter turnout fell in 2016 and showed an urban/rural split

However, the 2016 presidential election saw a nearly 2% drop in Minnesotans' voter participation compared to 2012, and that change was distributed unevenly across the state. Voting-age turnout fell three points in the Twin Cities, but only half a point in greater Minnesota. In the Southwest and West Central regions, 2016 turnout was actually up from four years before.

Midterm turnout was way up in 2018

The 2018 midterm reversed the urban/rural turnout divide, to some extent. Turnout was up nearly everywhere in 2018, compared to the previous midterm, but especially in the Twin Cities region. Twin Cities turnout was up 15 percentage points, compared to 10 points in greater Minnesota (for more details on who turned out to vote in the 2018 midterms, see our previous post from February).

 

Turnout in August Primary gives a preview of November General Election

Minnesota’s high voter turnout continued in the state primary on August 11, 2020. About 27% of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2020 primary – triple the number that did so in 2016. Turnout this year nearly matched the 28% state primary turnout from 2018. That is a notable achievement given that both parties had a competitive race for governor in that year, while 2020 had no truly competitive statewide primary races.

It remains to be seen what turnout will look like in November, and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic adds another unpredictable element. But if the primary is any indication, Minnesotans are ready to keep leading the nation in turning out to vote!

Along with high turnout overall, early and mail-in voting skyrocketed for the primary election, with nearly 6 in 10 voters voting absentee. See our next segment for more details on who votes absentee and what patterns in the primary could tell us about the November election.

Register to vote and learn about voting by mail.

About the author

Megan Chmielewski

Megan Chmielewski is an IT analyst at Wilder Research where she supports the Minnesota Compass project by analyzing national and state data to provide a picture of quality of life in Minnesota's communities. She also serves as database administrator for Sprockets, St. Paul's out-of-school time network.