Capitol Ideas

CSG Knowledge Center

Research Services

MLC Policy Resolutions

Stateline Midwest

States Perform

Minnesota leads nation in voter turnout


by Tim Anderson ~ March 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest

For policymakers looking to improve voter turnout, no state offers a better model than Minnesota.
At least so says George Mason University professor Michael McDonald in a paper examining the 2010 midterm elections and historical voter turnout data.
“Make it easy for people to vote, educate your citizenry and hold interesting elections,” McDonald writes. Using that formula, Minnesota had a turnout rate of 55.5 percent, highest in the nation.
McDonald calculates the rate by dividing the number of votes cast for highest office by the total voting-eligible population. Eight other U.S. states had turnout rates in 2010 of 50 percent or more, including Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin. North Dakota had the region’s fifth-highest rate.
With the exception of South Dakota, McDonald notes, these five Midwestern states have at least one thing in common: they allow Election Day registration. (Only nine U.S. states permit it, and they all fall above the national median for turnout.)
High-turnout states also tend to have larger percentages of residents who have at least attended some college classes. There is some evidence, too, that the use of mail ballots has a positive effect.
“The two states that conduct all-mail ballot elections — Oregon and Washington — are in the top five,” McDonald writes.
Competitive elections play a role as well. In Minnesota, for example, there was a hotly contested race for governor — the highest office on the ballot in 2010. In contrast, there was a lopsided race for governor in Nebraska, where the turnout rate in 2010 was only 38.4 percent — almost 10 percentage points lower than it was in 2006, when there was a close election for U.S. senator.
But no factor affects voter participation more than the presence or absence of a presidential election on the ballot, as the table on turnout for presidential and mid-term elections shows.
More information is available at the home site of George Mason’s United States Elections Project.