Secretary of State Steve Simon wants to make Minnesota No. 1 again — in voter turnout, that is.
Simon, the state’s top elections official, has been barnstorming the state in recent months, promoting his voting effort so that Minnesota can reclaim its top spot nationally for civic engagement. For nearly 10 elections in a row, Minnesota had bragging rights, ranking first among all states for its voter turnout rate. That was until 2014.
About half of eligible voters cast ballots that year, making Minnesota No. 6, falling behind states like Wisconsin, Maine and Oregon. In 2012 — during President Obama’s re-election — more than 75 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
“For nine elections in a row, we were No. 1 in the country, and we slipped a bit in 2014 … which is still very decent but not quite up to our usual Minnesota standards,” Simon said. “What I’ve done is issue a challenge for all of us to try to get back to No. 1. We can’t do it alone.”
Simon, a former state legislator who specialized in elections law, has even enlisted the help of some well-known professional athletes.
Twins players Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier and Kyle Gibson starred in a 15-second television ad currently running on the Fox Sports North network. In it, they urge Minnesotans to become registered voters and cast their ballots this fall. The baseball stars avoid any political endorsements as they aim to appeal to Minnesota’s civic-mindedness. Basketball players from the Timberwolves and Lynx also are partnering with Simon’s office to drive up voter turnout.
Simon has promoted several new, nonpartisan efforts to boost voter turnout this fall. The number of languages elections materials will be translated to has more than doubled, from five to 11. College campuses can compete against one another to register voters. About 180,000 high school students also will participate in the first statewide mock election in the presidential race.
“We look forward to reporting those results,” he said. This particular effort is about “getting good habits started early, and getting kids thinking of themselves as voters perhaps before they are voters.”
Young voters between the ages of 18 to 24 are the hardest to motivate. Around half voted during the last presidential election, and in 2014, only 20 percent did. “That’s why we’re concentrating on high schools and colleges,” Simon said.
Simon said turnout often depends largely on the efforts of political parties and their candidates to motivate voters. Obama, for instance, operated a very sophisticated data-driven turnout operation. His historic candidacy and message of hope also resonated with millennials, minorities and wide swaths of the electorate.
Some say that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s high unfavorability ratings might hurt voter turnout this fall, but Simon isn’t so sure.
“My overall prediction is we’re going to have high turnout in Minnesota,” he said. “Whether people are voting out of a sense of like or dislike, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, there’s an intensity out there that I think will lead to higher turnout.”