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Minnesota sees lower voter turnout than 2018 midterm, reflecting national decline

Voter turnout was down 4% in Minnesota and 6% nationwide in the Nov. 8 election when compared to the 2018 midterm.

STP-L-ELEX WALZ-1109 002.jpg
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz feeds his ballot into the scanner after voting on Election Day at the Linwood Recreation Center in St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota saw a smaller voter turnout in Tuesday’s midterm election than it did in 2018, part of a national trend that saw a 6% decline of registered voters head to the polls.

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office has reported that 60.6% of registered voters in the state cast a ballot in the Nov. 8 general election, down from 64.2% in the nation’s previous midterm.

Ahead of Tuesday’s election, Minnesota had seen more voter engagement than any other state for three consecutive cycles. In the 2020 presidential election, 80% of registered voters cast a ballot, while 64.2% and 74.7% cast ballots in the 2018 and 2016 elections, respectively.

While a 60.6% turnout in the 2022 midterm election may not have been enough to compete with Maine’s 60.8% and Oregon’s 63.2%, a historical analysis of all federal elections since 2000 shows Minnesotans repeatedly tend to show up to the polls in droves.

Across the 11 elections preceding the Nov. 8 midterms, just 52% of all registered voters in the nation cast a ballot in a federal election. Minnesota’s turnout across the same time period sits 16 percentage points higher, with an average of 68.5% of registered voters voting.

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As is the national trend, voters across the country are more likely to vote in presidential elections. In elections where the nation’s highest office is up for grabs, Minnesota holds a similar advantage, with an average turnout since 2000 of 76.4% compared to the national average of 60.6%.

Minnesota’s turnout this year was the lowest the state has seen since 2014, when only half of the state’s registered voters cast a ballot. In that election, the country as a whole saw a 36% turnout, the lowest recorded since World War II.

Which states increased or decreased their turnout?

According to data from the U.S. Elections Project, 39 states saw a decrease in voter turnout when comparing the 2018 and 2022 midterm elections.

North Dakota and Tennessee suffered the most, seeing a 25% decrease in voter turnout — though not a surprise to North Dakota State Elections Director Brian Newby.

“Turnout was exactly what I thought it would be,” he told Forum News Service on Wednesday.

Newby said that a hotly contested race between then-U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp helped drive turnout in 2018, though political scientists at North Dakota State University said expected Republican dominance in the state was the likely factor for this year’s decline.

In other states, New Jersey and Virginia saw a turnout decline of more than 20%, while Alabama and Oregon each saw an 18% decline. Illinois, New York and Vermont saw no significant change in their voter turnout.

South Dakota was the only state in the upper Midwest to see an increase in voter turnout. On that state’s ballot was the re-election of Gov. Kristi Noem, the expansion of Medicaid and the legalization of recreational marijuana. While Noem won the election and the Medicaid referendum passed, recreational marijuana — a measure which passed in 2020 with 54.2% of the vote and was later overturned in the courts — failed with only 47% of the vote.

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Pennsylvania, with a contentious race between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and television personality Dr. Oz, saw the largest increase in turnout, which jumped by 6%.

Are young voters voting?

Though comprehensive election results aren’t yet available, and a demographic breakdown cannot yet be analyzed, historical data indicates that the younger the voter is, the less likely they are to vote.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, voters aged 60 and older have had the highest turnout rate in all elections since at least 1986, with nearly 80% of the demographic voting in the 2020 election. Voters aged 18-29 have consistently seen the lowest turnout across the same time period, with just over half voting in the 2020 election.

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A demographic breakdown of voter turnout by age in all federal elections from 1986 through 2020.
Contributed / U.S. Elections Project

Increasing the engagement in Minnesota’s youth is something that Olivia Osei-Tutu, chief external affairs officer for the University of Minnesota Duluth Student Association, has tried to work on throughout her time in college.

A senior majoring in both political science and art, Osei-Tutu has had a hand in getting students at UMD — Minnesota’s fourth-largest college campus — registered to vote.

“It’s important to vote in all elections and have your voice be heard. That’s one of the big things we’re always talking about, we want students’ voices to be heard,” Osei-Tutu said. “We’re kind of making sure students know that midterm elections, even though they’re not presidential elections, are still important to vote in because you still have these local representatives that are on the ballot. Every election counts.”

In her time at UMD, Osei-Tutu has had a hand in organizing events that encourage students to get registered to vote, including tabling events and voter drives like Voterpalooza. Though she can’t put an exact number on how many student’s she’s helped register, she said some events have seen as many as 100 students register in a day.

According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, over 400,000 students are registered in the state’s postsecondary education institutions. Though not all reside in Minnesota, as attending classes virtually has since become a popular instruction method since the COVID-19 pandemic, most could be eligible voters if they choose.

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Osei-Tutu acknowledged that there is a certain percentage of students who might register but not cast a ballot, but said students can engage their friends by making a plan to go vote together.

“Honestly, just having friends who are engaged and people that you know who are engaged is the biggest way to get someone out to the polls, because if you've got a group of friends who say ‘let’s go vote,’ that can be such a big driver,” Osei-Tutu said. “I always drive my friends or family members to the polls with me.”

According to data from the Pew Research Center, nearly 20% of Minnesota’s voter-eligible population in 2019 was between the ages of 18 and 29.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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