Will high primary turnout signal high turnout in November?

Primary election in South St. Paul
People vote at the Lutheran Memorial Church ELCA Precinct 3 in South St. Paul, which historically has a high voter turnout and an older demographic.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

More than 900,000 Minnesotans voted in Tuesday's primary, according to Secretary of State Steve Simon.

"To give you an idea about how extraordinary that is, that is the highest raw number, at 902,000, the highest raw number since 1982," said Simon. "It is the highest percentage at about 22.7 percent since 1994."

Simon attributes the strong turnout to numerous competitive Republican and DFL primary contests, and the ease of "no excuse" early voting. For the third election cycle, Minnesotans had the option of voting before election day via absentee ballot, which is how 16 percent of the vote came in.

About two of every three voters cast ballots for Democrats, and DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said that points to an enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats.

"It's very clear not only in the turnout in this primary but anecdotally, the energy that we're seeing around the state, that Democrats are more enthused and fired up to vote in this upcoming election," said Martin. "We see that reflected in polls as well and it was nice to see that reflected last night in the primary turnout."

GOP Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said Republicans also turned out in record numbers.

"Over 300,000 Republicans turned out in this primary," said Carnahan. "The Democrats have been ahead of us in turnout this entire cycle. We saw that on caucus back in February, so to me, turnout is not a concern. What matters is who turns out to vote in November."

Carnahan said she hopes Republican President Donald Trump, who made a campaign stop in Minnesota in June, will return to the state at least once before the November election. She hinted a visit could be announced soon. About 10,000 people turned out to see Trump in Duluth.

DFL political analyst Todd Rapp cautions about putting too much stock in the fact that many more Democrats voted in the primary than Republicans.

"How people are going to vote, especially independent voters, is going to be determined by the next two-and-a-half-months, not by how much turnout there was on primary day," said Rapp. "Democrats normally have higher turnout and both parties have done substantially better than they typically do and that's good news generally for elections."

Since "no excuse" absentee voting became an option in Minnesota in 2014, more Minnesotans have gone that route every election cycle. Secretary of State Simon said having more voting options increases voter participation. Simon supports going even further by allowing people to truly vote early by casting the same Election Day ballot several days prior. Right now, all early voting requires an absentee ballot application.

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