How can Minnesota get more voters to the polls? #askmpr

Absentee ballots
In this Nov. 5, 2016 file photo voters wait to cast absentee ballots at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis.
Jim Mone | AP 2012

During the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8, MPR News is finding answers to your election questions. Pose yours here.

We've heard about how states can make voting more difficult for constituents, but what about the ways they make it easier?

John Wallenfeldt of Rochester, Minn. asks:

Why can't we take the best ideas from different places and incorporate them into our state's rules?

Minnesotans typically turn out at a higher rate than people from other states. Voter participation in 2014 placed us sixth in the nation. A little over 50 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

The high turnout is in part attributed to Minnesota's same-day registration, meaning anyone who shows up on Election Day can vote; as long as they can prove they are a citizen in the district.

The same rules apply for those looking to vote early; as long as you're over the age of 18 and can prove you've lived in Minnesota more than 20 days before Election Day.

And there's no need to explain why you're voting early. Minnesota along with 26 other states offer no-excuse absentee voting.

Some officials worry all the options for early and absentee voting opens the door to voter fraud. Others see it as a way to get more voters to participate and allows more time for vetting anyone attempting "voter impersonation."

Campaigns call and visit potential voters throughout the election season, encouraging them to take advantage of these options for completing a ballot. Still, allowing for early voting doesn't necessarily mean there will be higher turnout.

Minnesota had the sixth best voter turnout in the last presidential election. Maine led the nation and was followed by Wisconsin, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon.

Like in Minnesota, partial credit for the high turnout was attributed to same day registration opportunities which are offered in Maine and Wisconsin. While Oregon and Colorado conduct all elections by mail, so registration just needs to be completed before the ballot is sent in.

Maine mirrors Minnesota's voting rules fairly closely and Wisconsin was similar in 2014, but newly implemented voter ID laws are predicted to have an adverse effect on turnout this year.

One obvious point on turnout, backed by a study by the group Nonprofit VOTE is that more competitive races tend to increase turnout. That was the case during the 2014 election for Maine and Wisconsin which held hotly contested gubernatorial elections that year.

In the Nonprofit VOTE study the reasons people gave for not voting were mostly due to schedule conflicts, or just forgetting to register. Making early voting, same day registration and regular reminders a part of the election process were suggested as solutions for this problem.

Here's what some other states have done to entice voters:

• A federal judge in Michigan recently struck down a ban on taking selfies at the ballot box, saying restricting the photos would be a violation of free speech. Several other states allow photos at the polling place as well, though some rules apply depending on where you are. In Minnesota, for example, selfies are allowed, but they can't include other people in them.

• In Washington, D.C. curbside voting is made available for those who cannot get into the building. In D.C. and nationwide more work is being done to make voting more accessible for voters with disabilities.

• Washington, like Colorado and Oregon, automatically send ballots by mail to all registered voters prior to Election Day. Traditional polling places aren't available on Election Day, though locations to turn in a ballot in person are made available.

• California, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia allow voters the option of registering at their local DMV automatically when they obtain or renew a license or state identification card.

• Some counties in Texas and California have been known to post potential wait times online throughout Election Day so voters can better plan when they arrive to vote.

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