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Low turnout in Minnesota primary not sure to extend to general election

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Statewide, there was a decrease in the percentage of registered voters who voted in this year’s primary elections: 9.6 percent compared to 11.7 percent of registered voters in 2012.

Despite a low primary turnout in 2012, 95 percent of registered voters and 76.1 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in that fall’s general election, one of the highest state turnouts in the country.

In the 2010 primary, which also included a race for governor, 19 percent of registered voters in Minnesota voted, but 67 percent voted in the general election.

Only 10 percent of Clay County’s registered voters voted in Tuesday’s primary, compared to 16.5 percent in 2012. In 2010, 9.4 percent of registered Clay County voters turned out for the primary, while 61 percent voted in the general.

Turnout in the primary often doesn’t correlate with voting levels in the fall, said Minnesota State University Moorhead political science professor Barbara Headrick.

There might be a few reasons for this year’s low primary turnout, though.

“The low turnout this year is probably because of a couple of things,” she said. “One, they moved the primary to the middle of August instead of September. You’re gonna get a lower turnout as people try to get in one last vacation before ending kids back to school.”

The Minnesota secretary of state’s office disputes that bumping the primary up from September affected turnout.

“The change in date does not impact turnout in the primary,” said Nathan Bowie, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Whether or not the change in dates had an impact on the number of voters, Headrick and the secretary of state’s office agreed the turnout is often related to voter interest.

“You didn’t have one particular primary election that grabbed a lot of people,” Headrick said.

The Republican gubernatorial primary was probably the race that interested voters the most, but wasn’t very lively, she said.

“Also, candidates and parties focus on turning out party faithful during the primaries – whereas they focus more broadly for the general election,” Bowie said.

Headrick and Bowie said Minnesota voters will likely carry on the tradition of high turnout this fall.

But Headrick said turnout could be even higher if, like North Dakota and 32 other states and Washington, D.C., early voting was allowed in Minnesota, said Headrick, adding that Minnesota does have same-day registration, which can boost turnout.

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