Nation-leading levels of voter participation are a tradition in Minnesota. Mostly the packed polls are reflective of civic virtue. But it doesn't hurt turnout to have hotly contested elections like the 2008 U.S. Senate race, which ended in a recount.

Minnesota's incumbent secretary of state, DFLer Mark Ritchie, 58, was at the center of not only using his office to encourage and manage the high turnout, but to admirably handle the recount process. His leadership on both fronts merits his reelection.

The recount has already tested Ritchie unlike any of his peers or predecessors. Although elected with a partisan designation, he apolitically managed the multi-month affair with notable transparency and professionalism. His work didn't just give Franken, the eventual winner, the legitimacy his election deserved, but also reinforced the credibility of Minnesota's election system, which is one of the keys to high turnout.

Another factor is a voting system that encourages maximum participation. Ritchie's main opponent, Dan Severson, the Republican minority whip in the Minnesota House of Representatives, has made requiring photo identification such as a driver's license or state identity card the focus of his campaign. He believes that the current system, which allows voters to vouch for others who are not registered, is "rife with fraud." Severson, 56, believes that instituting photo ID would increase voter confidence in elections, and thus boost turnout. Ritchie convincingly counters that photo ID would disenfranchise thousands of Minnesotans, including seniors who have long given up their driver's licenses, as well as overseas military personnel, who through Ritchie's efforts have greatly increased their voting participation.

"Are we trying to make voting so convenient that people wait until the last minute?" Severson rhetorically asked during his endorsement interview. Yes, we are -- even though we share Severson's lament that many voters aren't prepared. High voter participation adds to the legitimacy of our election system and the leaders we elect, which in these challenging times is more important than ever.