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Minnesota voter turnout short of expectations; IP loses major party status

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Minnesota has long been proud of its reputation as the state with the highest voter turnout in the country. So it came as a disappointment that turnout in Tuesday's midterm election was only around 50 percent.

Just a few days before the election, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie was predicting 55-60 percent of eligible voters would go to the polls, "making it the 10th consecutive general election in which its turnout has surpassed all other states."

But it turns out he was a little too optimistic. Ritchie announced Wednesday that an estimated 1.9 million of the state's 3.9 million eligible voters cast their ballots, just a wee bit more than half. He noted that number is still preliminary, and will likely increase slightly as counties submit their final vote totals.

In the last two midterm elections, turnout in Minnesota was quite a bit higher: In 2010, it was just under 56 percent and in 2006 it was 60 percent, according to the statement.

Some observers speculated that voter participation would be higher because of the large number of people who voted by absentee ballot before Election Day.

Ritchie said more than 197,000 people voted absentee this year under the state's new "no excuses needed" absentee voting rules – about 10 percent of all the votes cast. That compares to a rate of 6 percent in 2010.

So why the drop off in voter interest this year? It could be because the races at the top of the ticket in Minnesota, for U.S. Senate and governor, were not considered very competitive, the Associated Press reports. In addition, only two of the state's eight congressional races were close.

We can take some comfort in the fact that voter turnout was down in many other states as well, according to this map, although Wisconsin's high-profile race for governor brought more people to the polls there:

The outcome of Tuesday's election in Minnesota doesn't technically become final until the State Canvassing Board certifies the results. That will take place on Nov. 25. The five-member board is appointed by the secretary of state each election. Ritchie is one member, and the others are two State Supreme Court justices and two judges from the second judicial district.

“Minnesota is recognized across the nation for the integrity of its election system, and we extend our appreciation to the 30,000 volunteer election judges and our local government staff who worked long hours to conduct an efficient voting experience for our voters,” Ritchie said.

Independence Party loses status

The Independence Party has lost major-party status in Minnesota as a result of its' candidates poor showing in Tuesday's election.

The threshold for the "major party" designation is for at least one party candidate to receive 5 percent in a statewide election. None of the IP candidates hit that mark for the second election in a row.

That means the IP will no longer have automatic ballot status and will see far lower campaign subsidies for candidates, the Associated Press reports.

IP candidates on the statewide ballot, and the percentage of the votes they received, are:

  • Hannah Nicollet, governor: 2.9 percent
  • Steve Carlson, U.S. Senate: 2.4 percent
  • Brandon Borgos, attorney general: 2.3 percent
  • Bob Helland, secretary of state: 4.9 percent
  • Patrick Dean, auditor: 4 percent

"There's no change in the attitude of our candidates and supporters, and it doesn't change our energy," IP chairman Mark Jenkins said, according to the Associated Press. "We're going to fight for fair and open elections and for reasonable governance in our state and in our nation."

The party's fortunes have declined quite a bit over the past few years. In the past two gubernatorial elections, IP candidates Peter Hutchinson (2006) and Tom Horner (2010) had high profiles and each garnered more than the required 5 percent of the vote.

However, it was Jesse Ventura who first brought the party in prominence when he was elected governor in 1998 on the Reform Party ticket. It was later renamed the Independence Party.

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Minnesota had highest voter turnout in the country

The nearly three million Minnesotans that cast their votes Tuesday put the state at the top of the list for voter turnout nationwide. Nearly 76 percent of eligible voters in the state made it to the polls and broke a record number of ballots cast, but the percentage of voters is actually lower than it was in 2008.