As the State Canvassing Board today certifies votes in last week's primary election, it doesn't appear voting during vacation season had a detrimental effect on turnout.
About 16 percent of eligible Minnesota voters cast ballots in the primary, which used to be held in September. It was moved up to make it easier for military and overseas voters to cast absentee ballots, but election officials had thought turnout could be as low as 10 or 11 percent.
"The expectation of summer and low turnout in general was really blown away by the actual performance of Democratic Party voters," said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
Of the more than 600,000 participating voters, three-fourths were Democrats casting ballots in the competitive, three-way DFL gubernatorial race.
Experts have long held that voter turnout, especially in primaries, depends mostly on how competitive a race is and how much interest voters have in the election. That's likely why so few Republicans and Independents cast ballots in Minnesota -- those gubernatorial races were less competitive.
As all three parties look to keep voters engaged in the approximately 75 days before the November election, Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance said the primary proved Democrats are more engaged than some expected.
"The DFL may be mobilizing in reaction to what they're seeing going on with the Republican Party and the tea party," said Jacobs, the center's director.
Republicans in Minnesota have a strong operation on the ground this year, but Democrats are taking note, Jacobs said.
"The Democrats I think shouldn't be counted out as being asleep for this election. In Minnesota at least, it looks like people have their eyes wide open on this one and are ready to turn out and vote," he said.
Ritchie said grassroots organizing helped get people to the polls, and likely also helped drive up the number of absentee ballots cast. More Minnesotans voted absentee in last week's election than in any other state primary.
Ritchie said there were also additional outreach efforts to make people aware of the earlier primary. Elections officials worked with the Minnesota Twins to remind people to vote, and Clear Channel Outdoor used their digital billboards to make people aware of the primary election date. The Secretary of State's Office also had a presence at events like Taste of Minnesota to educate voters.
It also helped that the political races were being covered closely by the media, Ritchie said.
"Those messages from the media, plus the campaigning by the different candidates equaled a huge turnout and a huge increase in the percentage and total number of people using absentee voting," he said.
But it remains uncertain whether the earlier primary will have an impact on turnout when the races aren't as competitive as they were in Minnesota this year.
Turnout for primary elections in Minnesota ranges from 10 to 20 percent, and higher turnout happens when more than one party has a competitive statewide race.
In Vermont, the other state that made its primary earlier this year, officials said it's been more difficult to mobilize voters. The state's primary, which includes a five-way Democratic race for governor, takes place next week.
Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, who is one of the five candidates, said she doesn't expect particularly strong turnout. The reason mostly has to do with there being too many candidates, but the fact that it's summer doesn't help, she said.
"It's confusing and the voters say, 'I can't make a decision, I'll go to the beach, I'll let somebody else decide,'" Markowitz said.
Markowitz expects primary turnout next week to be around 30 percent, which would be better than average but not set any records.
(MPR reporter Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.)