As Election Day draws nigh, it’s the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s custom to urge Minnesotans to head to the polls between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday to cast ballots. We hereby do so again. But we acknowledge that this year, our advice can be disregarded by at least a half-million voters — the ones who will already have voted by the time this editorial appears.
Absentee and early voting have taken off in Minnesota this year. As of Thursday, roughly 476,000 ballots had been requested; the Secretary of State’s office said Friday it expects to issue 600,000 ballots before Tuesday. That far outpaces the 200,000 absentee ballots requested in 2014, the most recent midterm election and the year in which “no excuses” absentee voting was introduced in Minnesota. This year, more than 1 in 4 Minnesota votes in this election will be cast at a time and place other than Tuesday’s traditional polls.
That’s an election result every democracy-lover can cheer. Allowing more times and places for people to vote is bound to increase election participation, which in turn adds to government’s legitimacy and citizens’ sense of stewardship for the public square.
We’re tempted to attribute the early voting surge to Minnesotans’ keen sense of civic duty. This is a state that ranks high on civic-engagement scales and has led the nation repeatedly in voter turnout.
But this year, early voting numbers are also up in at least 16 other states, the Washington Post reported. That suggests that something bigger is going on. This year’s “nationalized midterm environment” is spurring both admirers and opponents of President Donald Trump to the polls, the Pew Research Center reported in September. As longtime Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky put it, “The president is good for business.”
Mansky and his peers in county elections offices also deserve credit for creatively adapting to the still-new opportunity to vote early that state law now affords. (It’s technically still absentee voting, requiring completion of an application form before receiving a ballot.) For example, Ramsey County put an experimental, one-day-only early-voting station at St. Paul College last Wednesday, hoping to serve the busy young adults who dominate its student body. In just seven hours, Mansky reported, an impressive 271 people voted, 41 of them for the first time in their lives.
The lesson for elections administrators, Mansky said, is that a good way to turn nonvoters into voters is to put the polls where they are. “I’d like to see us have an early voting day on every college campus,” he said.
That’s one of a number of ideas from several quarters for boosting turnout in future years. State election administrators and lawmakers will have much to consider when the dust settles from this election. We’ll join their conversation in due time. For now, we’ll modify our familiar refrain: Please vote on Tuesday if you have not done so already. Your city, county, school district, state and nation will be stronger if you do. Your voting location, sample ballots and more information are available at www.mnvotes.org.