The Potluck

Minnesota used to be a pioneer on ballot access, but new data suggests that’s no longer the case

By: - September 23, 2022 8:15 am

A voter walks into Brackett Recreation Center in Minneapolis on Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota is a high-turnout state, with 80% of the eligible population going to the polls in 2020 – the highest rate in the nation. Traditionally, that’s been explained in part by the relative ease of voting here

New data comparing states on barriers to ballot access, however, paints a somewhat different picture: After factoring in a flurry of new voting measures implemented by legislatures in 2020 and 2021, Minnesota now ranks squarely in the middle of the pack among the states. 

The 2022 Cost of Voting Index, which tracks voting-related legislation going back to 1996, finds that Minnesota was a pioneer of expansive ballot access in the 1990s and early 2000s. But it’s since fallen in the ranks as other states have implemented new measures to ease voting, like all-mail voting and automatic registration.

The drop in the rankings underscores the importance of the upcoming election for future ballot access. GOP nominee for secretary of state and 2020 election denier Kim Crockett favors policies that would make voting more difficult, including shortening the early voting period, ending Election Day voter registration and requiring photo ID for voting. Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon, running for a third term, supports more expansive policies like automatic voter registration. 

A Crockett election win — particularly if coupled with GOP capture of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion — could usher in a new era of voting restrictions. Even though voters rejected voter ID when given the opportunity in 2012, Republican candidates continue to advocate for it. That would put Minnesota on a similar trajectory to neighboring Wisconsin – ranked sixth among the states just a decade ago, but now near the bottom of the heap at number 47.

The index considers myriad factors like ease of registration, early voting policies, polling hours, number of polling stations, average polling wait times, vote-by-mail options and voter ID policies. 

Michael J. Pomante of the States United Democracy Center, who helped assemble the index, noted that Minnesota was one of the few states with Election Day registration back in 1996. “However, over the years more and more states have been adopting Election Day registration, thus contributing to [Minnesota’s] drop.”

Pomante says in recent years Minnesota hasn’t kept pace with other states that have implemented more expansive policies, which is also contributing to its decline in the rankings. 

While Minnesota does have early in-person absentee voting, it doesn’t count as “early voting” for the purposes of the index because the state doesn’t require auxiliary early voting sites that are open past 5 p.m. on weekdays or on the weekends.

”Other states have adopted automatic voter registration, pre-registration, early voting, [and] voting centers, among other policies,” Pomante said. “While Minnesota has not adopted a significant number of policies that create barriers to voting, they have failed to keep pace with the adoption of policies, by other states, to remove barriers to voting.”

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.