Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Absentee ballots are streaming to election offices across the state but very few of those early voters are new voters, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
Only 5.6 percent of the nearly 34,000 voters who have already had ballots accepted did not vote in the last midterm election year, 2010. Another five percent did not vote in 2010 or 2012, the last presidential election year.
The analysis indicates that despite pushes from both Democrats and Republicans, new voters are not yet availing themselves of the law that allows anyone to vote by absentee.
About 34,000 people voted by absentee ballot as of Oct. 14. Another 6,000, in small, rural precincts, voted by mail.
Of the people who cast absentee ballots, 29 percent also voted absentee in both the 2010 and 2012 elections. Another 31 percent went to the polls in both of those election years.
The analysis also shows that more voters who have already had ballots counted come from Democratic areas than from Republican areas. By county, by Minnesota House district and even by precinct, more ballots are flowing in from areas that lean toward Democrats than lean toward Republicans.
Nearly half of absentee ballots have been cast by voters who live in Democratic House districts, 32 percent came from those in Republican House districts and about 19 percent came from swing districts.
Minnesota voters do not register by party so the Star Tribune does not have access to the personal politics of voters.
Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have both been pouring over absentee voter list. Both parties have invested in identifying voters by party.
With that data, the DFL and the Republican Party have come up with different results.
Martin, the DFL chairman, said their numbers show that 59 percent of absentee ballots have been cast by voters they have identified as Democrats. Martin said many of those Democrats are infrequent voters -- exactly the demographic they have need to turnout if the DFL is to do well this year.
The Republican Party shows statewide 39 percent of absentee votes so far have come from Republicans, 36 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from independent or unidentified voters, Republican chair Downey said.
Across the state, significantly more voters are opting to vote absentee than had in the 2010 election, according to the secretary of state.
Compared to nearly 40,000 accepted ballots as of Wednesday, election officials had only accepted 23,000 absentee ballots by this point in the 2010 election.
This year for the first time, anyone who wants to vote absentee can do so regardless of whether they can show up at the polls on Election Day. Previously, voters would have to offer an excuse for why they needed to vote absentee.
Below, see the number of ballots already cast and accepted, by county.
Updated to reflect more specific numbers.
After state officials said Wednesday that rates on the MNsure health insurance exchange will increase an average of 4.5 percent, Democrats praised what they called a modest rise while Republicans seized on the figure, calling it "bogus" and "deceptive."
In a short address with reporters, Gov. Mark Dayton said the rise in the average rate was "predominately good news," praising Minnesota for having among the lowest insurance premiums in the country, according to state officials.
State Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie, and Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, delivered the response for Republicans. Hann attacked the 4.5 percent figure, arguing that it masks what are larger rate increases for certain plans, participants and regions.
The MNsure rates releases comes hours before Gov. Dayton and GOP challenger Jeff Johnson are set to square off the first gubernatorial debate of the election cycle. In statement, Johnson criticized Dayton for what he called a failure to deliver on a promise that MNsure would decrease the cost of health insurance for middle-class Minnesotans.
"Time and time again, Mark Dayton has failed to deliver on his promises to middle-class Minnesotans," Johnson said. "In fact, the only promises he's kept are the ones he's made to the special interest groups who fund his campaign."
Wednesday's rise in the average rate was no surprise, according to analysts. That's partly because PreferredOne, the Golden Valley-based insurer, announced last month it would leave MNsure and not sell policies for 2015, according to Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. PreferredOne currently offers the lowest-cost options on MNsure.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, health insurance experts pointed to other factors also could be driving premium increases. MNsure will withhold a larger share of premiums next year to cover the cost of the exchange. Health costs are growing, in general, and more patients with costly health problems likely will move from a state safety net program to MNsure.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
So far independent and party organizations groups have spent at least $3.7 million in this year's Minnesota governor's race with most of it coming from organizations that support DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's election.
It would take a significant acceleration for the groups, which are not controlled by candidates, to reach the spending levels set in 2010.
Four years ago, when the governor's race had no incumbent, outside groups spent at least $11 million by the end of the election, according to a Star Tribune analysis of campaign finance figures.
The outside groups include political action committees, parties and others that must register with the state. The cash figures do not include cash spent by political nonprofits, which do not need to report their spending to the Minnesota campaign finance agency.
Of the $3.7 million, at least $2.4 million has come from the DFL party, the Democrat-supporting Alliance for a Better Minnesota and union groups.
The lack of spending among outside groups appears similar in Minnesota House races, according to filings made public this week.
So far, those PACs and parties have spent just under $1 million to influence who controls the House next year. Nearly half of that has been ponied up by the DFL Party and the DFL House campaign arm.
In addition, the Freedom Club has run about $900,000 worth of television ads that trash both DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL Legislature. The Star Tribune included that figure to the spending on the governor's race.
Back in 2012, when the House was last up for election, PACs and parties spent a little more than $4 million to influence that election. Additionally, they spent about $6.7 million to influence the control of the Minnesota Senate. Senate seats will not be on the ballot until 2016.
State Rep. Ron Erhardt and his Republican challenger Dario Anselmo met face-to-face at a forum at Edina City Hall Monday, agreeing more than they disagreed.
The tone was civil, genial even, which masked how competitive the race is.
Republicans need to flip seven seats to win the House majority, and they are aiming at the incumbent Erhardt in District 49A.
Both candidates struck a centrist tone on the state budget, transportation, health care and natural resources. Both can boast centrist bona fides -- Erhardt was once a Republican while Anselmo is a longtime small businessman.
Erhardt, who chairs the Transportation Policy Committee, said his top priority is a major infrastructure bill that would ease traffic and maintain roads and bridges.
Anselmo, longtime owner of the famed Fine Line Music Cafe until selling the business last year, said he would work to improve Minnesota’s business climate while also focusing on the educational achievement gap that leaves some poor and minority children behind.
Both said they would work to curb flight path noise from the nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Both said more needs to be done to fight invasive species.
Both acknowledged problems with MNSure -- the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange -- and said it needs improvement.
Minnesota House DFL leaders, locked in a tough battle to retain their majority, announced a plan to freeze public college and university tuition for two more years, until 2017, following a tuition freeze in 2014 and 2015.
“All Minnesota students deserve the opportunity to go to college and receive a degree – without finding themselves under a mountain of debt,” Speaker Paul Thissen said in a news release.
College-aged voters can be fickle, especially in non-presidential years, so DFL leaders may be expending extra effort to get them to the polls this year.
The plan won’t be free. Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota proposed a tuition freeze, in exchange for $127 million — or 10.6 percent — in extra state funding over the next two years, to pay for the tuition plan and other initiatives.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities offered its own similar proposal: A tuition freeze in exchange for an extra $142 million.
The House DFL plan would also expand loan forgiveness to graduates working in high demand jobs in rural Minnesota, as well as debt relief to graduates working for ServeMinnesota, the state's AmeriCorps offshoot.
Asked how the freeze would be paid for, House DFL spokesman Michael Howard said legislative leaders are working on determining the cost and a plan to pay for it. "Freezing tuition would certainly be a significant investment, but the objective would be that a tuition freeze would come from a mix of additional state dollars and reduction in administrative costs at" the universities, he said.
Updated, with comments from House DFL spokesman Michael Howard on paying for the proposal.