In an election unlike any other, Minnesotans turned out — well, like we always do.
And that is, “#1 in America” and in “modern day record” fashion, as Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon boasted following the Nov. 3 vote, carried out in the face of an ongoing and deadly pandemic.
For the third national election in a row, Minnesota led all states in turnout with 79.96% of eligible voters casting their ballots, many by mail or absentee for the first time to prevent coronavirus-spreading crowds and lines from forming at polling places.
“Amazing,” Simon tweeted on Nov. 24.
“Our 2020 turnout was not only the best in the country, but the highest in Minnesota since 1956,” he said in a statement six days later. “Getting to #1 in 2020 was particularly challenging. The spread of COVID-19 meant that we had to administer a statewide election with public health in mind. We strongly urged people to consider voting from home, and they responded in record numbers.”
Nearly 3.3 million Minnesotans voted, 58% of them early, with public health and public safety concerns a prime reason why.
Duluth’s 80.3% turnout, as the News Tribune reported Nov. 14, was almost identical to the 80.5% in 2016, the last time the nation voted for president. Roughly 90% of registered voters cast ballots in Lakeside precincts, 89% in Piedmont Heights, and 86% in Duluth's westernmost 34th Precinct. On the low end, in Precinct 10, which includes the University of Minnesota Duluth, just 56% of registered voters voted, compared with 78% in 2016.
That low UMD-area turnout shouldn’t be seen as alarming or as evidence of a fraudulent or rigged election. Rather, "I suspect (college students) just didn't vote on campus because so many of them are not living on campus right now,” as UMD associate professor of political science Cynthia Rugeley told a News Tribune reporter.
Duluth reflected the rest of the state in voting early this election, too. The city received about 22,500 absentee ballots by mail, with another 3,025 people voting in person ahead of Election Day. Only about 6,000 absentee ballots were cast in Duluth in the 2016 presidential election, the city said.
A voter turnout of about 80% is an achievement worthy of Simon’s boasting — and all Minnesotans can join him. We can challenge the rest of the nation to recognize, like we did once again, that voting is our duty and our responsibility as citizens and as members of our communities. All of us eligible to vote have a voice, one we can’t allow to fall silent when something as important as choosing our representatives at all levels of government is on the line.
Minnesota’s turnout can remind the rest of the nation that voting is a privilege, and one not always afforded to all. Over the decades, many courageous individuals, most notably women and African-Americans, fought hard for and even died to win the right to vote for everyone. Going to the polls is not something to be taken for granted. It's an opportunity.
In the Gopher State this year — one more time and in spite of the challenges of COVID-19 — it was an opportunity seized in record, boast-worthy fashion.