While our voter-turnout analysis for the Aug. 10 primary election is still in progress, it’s safe to say that the final turnout tally will be very close to the last similar primary election (2006). The Northeast-area turnout for that election was 23.1 percent. The North Minneapolis turnout for that election was 19.2 percent. This year, the Minneapolis citywide turnout was 22.3 percent.
The numbers indicate that the decision to have the primary in August, rather than in September, does not appear to have diminished voter turnout, as many feared that it would. The fact that the primary-related political debate happened earlier in the year created its uncomfortable moments, but it appears that most of the people involved rose above the discomfort and did what needed to be done. That’s the good part.
Warning: Lecture to follow.
For those of us who claim to have paid attention in civics class, it’s not hard to argue that voting is one of the most important rights that U.S. citizens—and Northeast and Northside citizens—have. It’s not hard to argue that those who don’t vote have no advantage over those who can’t. It’s not hard to argue that Minnesota has a history of high voter turnout; and, while a connection can’t be proven, Minnesota always seems to earn high marks on "best places to live" polls, even though our temperature extremes are, well, extreme.
That said, it’s not hard to argue that a 20-something voter turnout percentage is pretty dismal.
Because our numbers aren’t all in and crunched yet, we’ll offer the benefit of the doubt and concede that 25 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on Aug. 10. That means:
• 25 percent of voters decided who will run for governor in November. Maybe they made wise choices, maybe they didn’t. But should 25 percent have decided something so important?
• 25 percent of voters bumped a long-term incumbent state senator off the ballot. His mis-steps might have been serious enough, and his opponent good enough, to justify the move. But should 25 percent have decided something so important?
• The incumbent secretary of state and attorney general, arguably the most powerful local interpreters of our precious voting rights (and other rights), had re-election opposition within their own party. By most any measure, they trounced their in-party opponents. But is a trouncing really a trouncing when three out of four voters stayed home? Or, put another way, should 25 percent have decided something so important?
We don’t claim that the Aug. 10 voters made bad choices, we don’t claim that if more people had voted the outcomes would have been different. We do seriously, seriously lament and regret the fact that three fourths of us—that’s half again more than half of us—couldn’t be bothered to squeeze a few minutes out of their busy schedule, run over to a local school, church or other public building, most of which are very conveniently located, and fill out a simple election ballot. This also strongly suggests that those same people didn’t bother to check out the candidates so that they could make those cherished (by some of us) decisions in an intelligent manner. And, it must really anger the people who wanted to vote but who, because of unrelenting obligations or a real emergency, were not able to vote.
But we’re not trying to put you down, you 75-percent-ers. By definition, you’re in the majority here. We’re not trying to put you down, because we want to win you back. We in the press are supposedly among the "heavy hitters" in the public influence department. We must share the blame for the dismal voter turnout. And if we knew exactly what to do to improve things, we would have done it. At least we think we would have done it.
We’re eager to hear from readers who didn’t vote what we in the media might have done—and what we might do in the future—to inspire them to vote, even in the elections that don’t immediately determine the winners. For starters, it would be nice to reverse that percentage, so the turnout would be 75 percent. Given the importance of "the franchise," we would hope our communities could do even better.