ST. PAUL -- Forget the historically low turnout in the August primary. Toss the memories of Minnesota’s 2014 lack of voters.
Minnesota is back as the votingest state in the nation.
“We are Number 1 in the nation,” Gary Poser, Minnesota’s director of elections, announced at the state’s canvassing board meeting Tuesday. “We’ve reclaimed that title this year.”
Despite an election that turned many off from politics, Minnesotans turned out. Nearly 3 million Minnesotans — 2,968,281 to be precise — cast ballots in last month’s election. That’s the highest number the state has ever seen at the ballot box.
According to state officials, more than 81 percent of registered Minnesota voters cast ballots. That’s just under 75 percent of eligible Minnesotans.
Many of them voted before Election Day. Secretary of State Steve Simon said nearly 23 percent of all voters cast ballots by mail or by absentee. That’s another record-smashing number, owing to a change in law, campaigns to get ballots in voters’ hands and voters’ desire for convenience.
Minnesotans may not want to get too comfortable with the No. 1 turnout status, however. Minnesota is first in the nation by default — a majority of voters in other states stayed home on Election Day. And although the highest pure number of Minnesota voters cast ballots than ever before, that’s owed, in part, to population growth. In previous Minnesota elections, a higher percentage of Minnesota voters turned out.
The state’s canvassing board, made up of the secretary of state, two state Supreme Court justices and two district judges, quickly accepted the official tally of the election Tuesday afternoon.
But the election is not quite over in some races — on Tuesday, the board also began to make arrangements for two election recounts.
In state Senate District 14, in the St. Cloud area, Republican Jerry Relph has a 148-vote lead on Democrat Dan Wolgamott. The vote difference is less than one-half of 1 percent of the nearly 37,000 cast in the race, so the state will pay for a hand recount.
“It’s exciting that we get to do this recount, so we make sure that every voter that we talked to and every ballot that was cast is accurately and transparently counted,” said Wolgamott, who attended the board’s meeting. If Relph’s lead holds, he would give Senate Republicans a 34th member and confirm their majority.
An accurate vote tally is what Republican congressional candidate Stewart Mills wants as well. Even though his 2,000-vote deficit in his race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan is too great for the state to pay for a recount, he wants the the 18 counties in the northern 8th Congressional District to hand count all 357,000 ballots in the district.
Mills on Tuesday formally requested a recount. He will pay for the local officials’ cost of conducting the tally.
The state has already taken a second look at the ballots from 40 of the district’s 800 precinct results, in part of its usual review of elections’ machine counts. The results of that audit? Nolan and Mills each picked up one vote.
Joe Radinovich, Nolan’s campaign manager, said he expects a similarly undramatic result after all the ballots are counted.
“We expect that pattern to continue throughout the 8th Congressional District and Minnesota’s fair and clean election will be validated,” Radinovich said after the canvassing board meeting.
Both the state Senate and the U.S. House recounts are expected to begin next week. State officials are hopeful both will conclude before Dec. 12.