As of 9:45 this morning, 26,211 absentee ballots had been received by elections officials, the highest total in two decadesfor a primary election, according the the Secretary of State’s Office. That “highest in two decades” number includes presidential-year primaries.
Could that high total — in-person absentee balloting continues until 5 p.m. today — mean that all the talk of a low turnout for this first-of-a-kind mid-August primary might be wrong? It has been an assumption of all the major candidates that turnout would be low; that huge numbers of Minnesotans wouldn’t be aware of the primary date.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, for example, said in an interview late last week that the great lesson of this primary is that the Legislature would have to move it to spring.
“This summer primary is one of the worst things we could have done in Minnesota,” Rybak said. “I can tell it is a real drag on getting people involved. It sets back the gains we made in the Obama campaign.”
Indeed, in the 2008 primary, 21,160 people voted absentee, the highest total in eight years.
Over the years, primary totals have varied substantially. In 2008, for example, the Obama-Clinton presidential contest had been decided and Al Franken was running essentially unopposed for the DFL’s spot on the ballot. Just 11.26 percent of Minnesotans participated in the primary.
The numbers Ritchie’s office reported today sails past even the 1998 absentee turnout, when 25,257 absentee ballots were amassed. That was the year of legendary names in the DFL primary. Skip Humphrey defeated the DFL’s endorsed candidate, Mike Freeman, as well as Mark Dayton and Ted Mondale in the primary. (Humphrey went on to finish behind the Independence Party’s Jesse Ventura and Republican Norm Coleman and the in the general election.)
Rybak, and most other pols and pundits, have anticipated that there would be a low turnout for this primary because of the early date.
Rybak said that he was especially concerned that young voters and first-time voters will be sitting this primary out.
“Cabins and music fests” will overwhelm politics, he predicted.
He may turn out to be correct. Perhaps the high absentee totals don’t foreshadow a large turnout tomorrow.
But the totals do indicate that Minnesotans aren’t oblivious to the campaigns that have stretched on for months.
“Clearly the message is out there about the approaching early primary,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said in a statement.
That big race among the big DFL names in 1998 inspired 20.23 percent to participate in the primary. But the highest primary turnout in recent decades came in 1994, when incumbent Republican Gov. Arne Carlson could not get the endorsement of his own party. That went to Allen Quist, the darling of the conservatives in the party and an easy target for Carlson.
Despite the large absentee showing in this year’s race, the Secretary of State’s Office still is predicting participation at “the low end” of the 10 to 20 percent range.