Minnesota sees surge in new voter registrations ahead of midterms
Voter registrations are surging in Minnesota, especially among young adults. New state data released at the end of last week show that 52,644 new voters have registered to vote so far this year — more than double the number of new voters registered at this time in 2014, the last year in which the state held a gubernatorial election.
And two-thirds of the new voter registrations so far — 35,608 people — are 18 to 30 years old.
The spike comes after the state in August saw the highest primary turnout since 1994.
"I think people are fired up to vote on both sides," said Secretary of State Steve Simon.
Simon attributed the increased interest to the growing popularity of "no-excuse absentee" voting, which allows people to cast early votes in person or at home, as well as a number of high-profile competitive races this year.
By this time last year, more than 20,000 new voters had registered in the state. In 2016, about 72,000 new voter registrations were completed by this time, although the high interest was expected for the presidential election. And in 2014, there were 26,000 new voters registered in the first eight months of the year.
The trend is strong nationwide, with voter registrations spiking this year, especially among young adults after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting that killed 17 students and staff last February, prompting a student-led campaign for gun control.
"That strikes me as remarkable," Simon said, adding that with colleges and high schools just starting their academic year, those numbers are likely to rise further.
LeadMN, which represents two-year college students in Minnesota, has boosted its voter outreach, and in the past two weeks, 2,000 students have pledged that they will vote in the election.
"We're seeing a high level of excitement in this election by young people. And it's only going to increase over the next few weeks," said Mike Dean, the executive director of LeadMN, adding that college campuses statewide will participate in National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25.
"I've never seen this level of engagement. What I'm hearing is there's a frustration that the older generation isn't doing a good job running the country and we need to step up," Dean said.
A push at colleges
According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, 70 percent of Minnesota college students registered to vote in 2016, and of those, 84 percent voted, though that was less than in 2012.
Simon's office is also working with the League of Women Voters and school districts to promote early registration, which allows teens who are 17½ to pre-register if they will be 18 by the time of the next election.
About a month after the Parkland shooting, the number of 16- and 17-year-olds who pre-registered to vote in Colorado, for instance, jumped nearly 17 percent compared to the year before. In Minnesota, more than 1,000 17-year-olds have pre-registered to vote, but Simon's office doesn't track the number year to year.
Simon said his office has lobbied the Legislature — unsuccessfully, so far — for a change in state law to allow 16-year-olds in Minnesota to preregister to vote, as other states allow. While teens can't cast a ballot until they turn 18, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds makes the process easier and increases the likelihood they will vote later, Simon said.
The League of Women Voters Minnesota has also launched new youth outreach efforts this year, offering text reminders that anyone can sign up for on a smartphone. Those who do will get alerts on when to pick up absentee ballots or verify voter registration.
"There's definitely been an increased energy," said Nick Harper, the civic engagement director for the organization. "It's thrilling to see more people engaged."
Minnesota has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation — bragging rights that Simon said he expects to extend into this year.
"Minnesotans seem primed and ready to vote," he said. "At this rate, it looks like a high turnout year in Minnesota."