Counties bracing for big turnout in the fall

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2008 - 11:57 PM

Anoka County is ordering extra ballots for the November presidential election, and inquiries by new voters are coming in at an eye-opening rate.

The percentage of eligible metro-area voters who will cast ballots in November's presidential election will be the highest in half a century, predicts a former state elections director -- so high that Anoka County has doubled its request for ballots.

"That would be wise," said Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager and former state elections director. "Statewide, we expect 80 percent of our eligible voters to vote. You'd have to go back to the 1950s to find a percentage higher than what we'll see in November."

The intrigue and anticipation that has created record turnouts in many of the nation's primaries is expected to be magnified in Minnesota, with its strong political traditions and a Senate race that may accelerate pulses by November.

Minnesota mandates that each county order an excess of ballots -- enough to cover 118 percent of its current voters -- with the anticipation that many new voters will have registered by November.

But Anoka County has gotten so many inquiries from prospective new voters that the county will order enough ballots to cover 200 percent of its current voters, said Rachel Smith, the county's election manager.

"The last time we got nearly as many calls from young people was when Jesse Ventura ran for governor" in 1998, Smith said.

Each week, more than 200 prospective voters mail registration cards to Anoka County officials, while another 30 inquire about voter registration in person, Smith said. It's a stark contrast, Smith said, to 2006, when there was no presidential election, but a proposed Vikings stadium in Blaine was still a hot-button political issue in Anoka County, where three commissioners' seats were at stake.

"Anoka County voters tend to be independent, not affiliating with one party or another," Smith said, explaining that calls to county offices are not just coming from Democrats anticipating a historic run by Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Many of the inquiries Anoka receives are from young voters, Smith said, but not all. Voters hoping to cast absentee ballots are calling early.

"The turnout for the primaries and caucuses has been universally high," Mansky said. "Traditionally, registration and voting has been related to education, home ownership, income. But this year, we're looking for high turnouts across the board.

"You can assume in the metro area, the DFL voter turnout will be high. But this could be the highest overall turnout we've seen any time."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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