Low turnout, high temps mark August primaryby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio,
Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — For the first time in more than 70 years, Minnesotans headed to the polls Tuesday for a summer primary. The election was moved up by about a month to comply with a federal law intended to give military personnel and Americans living abroad more time to vote by absentee ballot.
Elections officials said the combination of the summer primary date and relatively few close races may result in low turnout at the polls. Polls close at 8 p.m.
The last time Minnesotans voted in a summer primary was in 1938. Some voters today showed up in tank tops, T-shirts, or shorts. It seems like everyone was talking about the weather.
"Most of our polling places don't have air conditioning," said Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky. "We've heard a number of complaints from our election judges that it's really hot sitting in some of these schools and recreation centers that don't have air, or don't have it on."
Mansky said at one of the St. Paul polling places, the Scheffer Recreation Center, workers dragged out a fan and opened the gymnasium doors to help the election judges cool off.
For next year's elections, Mansky said his office will survey polling places to make sure they have air conditioning.
The heat and the earlier date may be reasons why fewer people are expected to vote in today's primary.
David Mann spent the past several weeks encouraging friends to show up at the polls today. But it wasn't easy.
"Because a lot of people don't know it's been moved up. And then they already have plans to be out of town, so they have to vote absentee," said Mann. "People's orientation is not set yet for August. August is vacation time, and September is election time."
Mann and his wife didn't need any convincing that their vote was important. They cast their ballots in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, and were part of a slow trickle of voters that began shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m.
Many said they were invigorated by a competitive three-way race for the DFL nomination for governor between Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza and Mark Dayton.
Turnout at the polls could be as low as 10 percent, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Ritchie, who is on the ballot this year, said the governor's race isn't the only one rallying voters to the polls. Ritchie said sheriff's races in Freeborn County and nearby areas in southern Minnesota seem to be drawing in voters.
"Something's going on, and it seems like sheriff's races have picked up a lot of the energy and the juice this year," said Ritchie. "They are very lively local election contests wherever there are those hot races."
Besides the DFL gubernatorial race, two Independence Party candidates -- Rob Hahn and Tom Horner -- are running for their party's nomination. Republican Tom Emmer has no serious challengers.
Voters in some legislative races will also cast primary ballots.
Ritchie said no major problems have been reported yet on Primary Day. And despite the low voter turnout, he said absentee voting is at a 20-year-high, with 30,841 ballots accepted.
A preliminary report shows that 1,080 absentee ballots were rejected, according to statement from the Secretary of State's office.
Of that total, the rejection rate for absentee ballots from military and overseas voters dropped from 2.02 percent in 2008 to .05 percent, according to the report. The rejection rate for domestic absentee ballots also decreased -- from 3.5 percent in 2008 to 3.38 percent.
- All Things Considered, 08/10/2010, 5:17 p.m.
Elizabeth Dunbar is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.