Minnesota voter registration soaring

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2008 - 10:25 PM

Minnesota, always a leader nationally in turnout, is on a record pace to sign up voters.

Voter registrations in Minnesota have already surpassed the record set in 2004, and the state could have nine out of every 10 possible voters signed up in time for November's election.

According to the Secretary of State's office, 84 percent of eligible voters in Minnesota -- about 3,145,000 -- are registered. That's 12,000 more voters than the record set in 2004.

The national average for voter registration is 68 percent.

"In our office, we see this as a watershed year," said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

With weeks of registration left and same-day registration estimated to pull in about 150,000 additional people, Ritchie said he expects the number to climb to about 90 percent.

Ritchie said he believes Minnesota already posts the highest registration percentage in the country. No uniform standards are observed in collecting data, said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

But, McDonald said, with Minnesota possessing "one of the best election administrations in the country" and posting traditionally high voter registration and turnout, it "probably is correct."

The hotly contested presidential race has prompted reports of similar registration surges in other states, and some fears that election officials and facilities may be unprepared for the sudden influx of new voters.

In Minnesota, the increase in registrations is being seen across the metro region and throughout the state.

Ramsey County had tallied about 310,00 registered voters as of mid-September, about 15,000 above normal for this stage of the election. In 2004, the county's registered voters on Election Day (not counting same-day registrations) was 303,000.

Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager, said that the 250 registration cards his office was receiving weekly this summer doubled after Labor Day.

"This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime event this year," he said.

Washington County reported 144,939 registered voters as of Sept. 23. In 2004, it had 133,857 registered voters on Election Day, not counting same-day registration.

In Dakota County, 235,514 voters are registered, compared with 217,265 in 2004.

Some of the gains in those counties can be attributed to their fast-growing suburban populations. But the trend also is visible in slower-growing counties as well. In Blue Earth County, 37,708 voters were registered this fall, compared with 31,151 in 2004, not counting same-day registration. Absentee ballot requests -- another good indication of voter interest -- also are way above average, at 600 so far.

"This early?" said Patty O'Connor, Blue Earth County director of taxpayer services. "That's a lot for us. The phone is ringing like crazy [with people] looking for ballots. The last time I saw this was when Jesse [Ventura] ran."

Ritchie's office reported 55,000 new registered voters across the state this year, which can include new residents, first-time voters or people who let their registration lapse between elections.

McDonald said the buzz around the Obama-McCain race will likely have the unintended benefit of getting more voters casting ballots for local offices as well. And across the board, election officials said they're hopeful that once voters are engaged, they'll stay engaged come future elections, presidential and otherwise.

Micki Abrahahmson wasn't politically active when someone wandered by his tent at a music festival about a year ago and asked him to register to vote.

But the 19-year-old University of Minnesota art student is now interested and active, thanks in large part to the heated presidential showdown.

University of Minnesota freshman Sarah Brousseau said she's witnessed friends do complete about-faces because of the election's excitement.

"One of my friends has posters of Obama all over her room," she said. "One of my friends is campaigning. I would never expect that."

Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391

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