Minnesota’s voter turnout track record, in five charts

By: - November 2, 2020 6:00 am
Early Voting sign in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 23: Brad Lewis, Elections Support Specialist, waits outside the Northeast Early Vote Center to greet voters on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

More than 1.5 million Minnesotans have already voted in Tuesday’s presidential election, over half the total number of voters who cast a ballot in the 2016 election.

Between the pandemic, mail slowdowns, last-minute court decisions and widespread disinformation, casting a ballot in the United States this year felt especially fraught for many voters. Still, turnout is projected to reach record levels nationwide, with at least two states surpassing their 2016 ballot totals days before Nov. 3.

And there’s a chance that Minnesota could set a new personal best too. Turnout here is projected to top 80%, which would be the state’s highest turnout rate in more than 60 years, according to some estimates

Here are three things to know about voting in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s highest voter turnout was in 1956

Minnesota’s voter turnout during presidential elections averages about 74%. Turnout was highest in 1956, at 83.2%, and lowest in 1996, at 66.6%.

Turnout is lower in midterm elections, which tend to be viewed as lower-profile and less important than presidential races. In Minnesota, midterm turnout hit a low in 1986, at 48%, and peaked at nearly 65% in 2002.

That record was almost matched in 2018, when just over 64% of Minnesotans voted.

Turnout surged across the country that year, especially among young people and people of color, as voters motivated by President Donald Trump’s presidency showed up to the polls in record numbers. For the first time in decades, more than half of eligible voters in the U.S. cast a ballot during a midterm.

In case you haven’t heard: Minnesota has the nation’s highest voter turnout rate

The fact that it’s easier to vote here than in most other states is a major reason turnout is so high. Minnesota was one of the first states to allow same-day registration, which in the last several elections has allowed hundreds of thousands of voters to register at their polling place on Election Day.

Experts also say a more abstract factor likely influences Minnesota’s voting rates: the state’s culture around voting and civic engagement.

“There’s something that drives deeper that gives us a base of high turnout, and then you add everything else to that afterward,” DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin told MinnPost in 2016.

Disparities in voter turnout remain

Although Minnesota has a high overall voter turnout rate, disparities remain.

Younger voters turn out at far lower rates than their older counterparts, but turnout among voters under 30 surged between the 2014 and 2018 midterms. Turnout more than doubled among 20- to 24-year-olds, from 18.4% in 2014 to 37.5% in 2018.

There are significant gaps across racial groups, too. In 2016, just 19% of Hispanic voters, 37% of Asian voters and 58% of Black voters said they cast a ballot, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

There are a long list of reasons for the gap in turnout in the United States, including the nation’s long history of voter disenfranchisement — especially in the Jim Crow South — unequal access to polling places and language barriers, experts say.

In Minnesota, some of the gaps are narrowing. Black voter turnout increased substantially between the 2008 and 2016 elections, rising from 45.5% in 2008 to 58% in 2016.

And this year, Minnesota activists hope to boost turnout rates among Minnesotans of color even higher. Faith in Minnesota, the political arm of nonprofit faith organization ISAIAH, launched a statewide campaign this spring to get Minnesotans from diverse backgrounds to the polls.

Faith in Minnesota is on track to make hundreds of thousands of contacts with voters by Election Day through coalitions of volunteers dedicated to reaching Black voters, Muslim voters, child care center owners, suburban residents and other communities, said JaNaé Bates, spokesperson for Faith in Minnesota.

“It’s engaging a bunch of people who, at best, have been marginalized and pushed out from political power, and at worst have been scapegoated and used as a political football, like our Muslim commuinty here in Minnesota,” Bates said. “It’s super exciting, at a time when politics can feel really cynical.”


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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.