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With few races, Minnesota primary turnout in August likely small

ST. PAUL--Minnesotans may be the best at turning out for general elections, but they have voted in shrinking numbers in primary elections. And there is not much on the Aug. 9 primary ballot to drive those numbers higher. That is too bad, Minnesot...

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ST. PAUL-Minnesotans may be the best at turning out for general elections, but they have voted in shrinking numbers in primary elections.

And there is not much on the Aug. 9 primary ballot to drive those numbers higher.

That is too bad, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said.

"A primary election, obviously, determines which candidates are going to appear on a general election ballot," Simon said.

Some Minnesotans will face a short ballot with just one Supreme Court justice race as the only thing on the statewide ballot. Others will see legislative, district court or local races, too.

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The biggest race comes in the 2nd Congressional District, with voters being asked to trim a four-Republican contest down to one for the Nov. 8 general election. The district, in the south Twin Cities and nearby rural areas, is served by Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, who is not running again.

Two district court races have three-person primary contests, as do 27 of 201 state Legislature races.

For nonpartisan contests, such as in the courts, voters on Aug. 9 will trim the slate to two candidates. Where candidates run as party members, like legislative races, one candidate will remain for each party.

There are local government races in parts of the state.

"I see the primary as sort of a dress rehearsal for the general election," said Simon, who sets a goal of Minnesota reclaiming its general election voter turnout lead.

While Minnesota led the nation in the November election nine times (sometimes nearing 80 percent turnout) and dropped to No. 6 in 2014, primary voting has been eroding for years.

Two years ago, 10 percent of eligible Minnesota voters turned out and four years ago it was just 9 percent. That, however, was not the low-water mark; that came in 2004 when fewer than 8 percent voted.

In the 1950s and 1960s, about a third of voters went to the primary polls. While there have been turnout spikes in years with exciting contests, the numbers have been steadily falling.

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Even a year like 2010, with now-Gov. Mark Dayton and then-House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher facing off in a primary, turnout was only 16 percent.

Primary election absentee ballots have been available for weeks, but starting a week before Election Day, casting them gets easier. Simon said that is when voters may go to their county's election offices and simply vote and put the ballot in the vote-counting machine instead of going through the time-consuming process of filling out two envelopes and placing the ballot in them.

County election offices also will accept absentee ballots 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Saturday before Election Day.

Simon suggested that Minnesotans who want absentee ballots mailed to them should send in an application at least a week before Election Day.

Simon said the public remains interested in the no-excuse absentee ballot introduced in 2014. Before then, voters had to give a legal reason, such as plans to be gone on Election Day, before voting absentee.

There are a couple of changes for this election.

First, for the first time a military veteran identification card can be used to register at the polls.

Second, Simon's office added more languages (Amharic, Chinese, Hmong, Khmer, Lao, Oromo, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese) to its mnvotes.org Website. That also is where voters may find out what is on their Aug. 9 ballot.

Related Topics: STEVE SIMON
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