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Our View: Minnesota rocks voter turnout — again

Like we do after most elections, voters in Duluth and across Minnesota can give ourselves a big ol' pat on the back.

Nearly 2.6 million of us statewide went to the polls Tuesday, achieving a nearly 64 percent voter turnout. It was the highest percentage of voters for a midterm in Minnesota in 16 years. More impressively, it was the most voters ever for a midterm in the history of a state that long has been bragging, and for good reason, about its high level of civic engagement.

"Minnesota elections are a model for the nation," Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a statement last week in releasing the state's latest terrific turnout tallies. "Not only do Minnesotans value civic engagement, but you have demanded from your government a voting system that makes it as easy as possible for Minnesotans to exercise their voice and power at the polls. Whether or not our participation rate this year means we will maintain our (No. 1-in-the-nation) status, I will always consider you the best voters in our great country."

Minnesota had been No. 1 in voter participation prior to 2014. That year we slipped to sixth in the country. A year after that, when Simon was first elected, he made it a goal to get the state back to the top. He launched a first-of-its-kind "Ballot Bowl," pitting colleges and universities in a competition to register student voters. College Republicans and Democrats on 68 Minnesota campuses actually worked together for a larger good, a huge win in itself. And Simon led a first-ever mock election with Minnesota high schoolers, engaging many of them in politics for the first time. He hoped 100 schools would participate. Nearly 300 signed up, including Denfeld, Marshall and East in Duluth.

"I wanted us to do better," Simon said this fall in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board during his successful re-election campaign.

We did do better. In the 2016 presidential election, Minnesota ranked first once again in voter turnout. This year, with last week's busy voting, we're positioned now to hold onto that first-in-the-nation ranking.

In Duluth, turnout was even better. We outpaced the statewide numbers: 43,252 votes were cast in Duluth — a 72.02 turnout, as Mayor Emily Larson reported.

"For perspective: the last midterm election in 2014, voter turnout was 59.85 (percent). And in the last presidential election in 2016, voter turnout was 80.49 (percent)," Larson said in a social-media post. "Duluth not only just shattered expectations for a midterm, we actually came close to surpassing turnout for a presidential election."

Larson credited a visit from Simon to kick off early voting, extra space set aside in City Hall for early voting, stepped-up voter-registration efforts, a Twitter page devoted to Duluth elections, an increased number of election judges, and several other factors for Duluth's impressive turnout.

We can do better, of course. Sixty-four percent of eligible voters voting statewide and 72 percent in Duluth means 36 percent statewide and 28 percent in Duluth sat out this latest election, for whatever reasons. That's nearly 1.5 million eligible Minnesota voters who either weren't able to get to the polls and maybe could have used a hand or who chose to ignore their civic duty and responsibility. That's as troubling as the gaudy turnout numbers are impressive.

There's another election coming. There's always another election coming. Minnesotans can commit now to becoming even more active participants.

But we certainly can take a moment first for a bit of self-congratulating for last week's winning participation.

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