Attacks might have increased voter turnout, officials say

Amy Hackbarth

Voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul showed up at the polls for primary elections in greater numbers than in previous years, despite serious concerns that Tuesday’s terrorist attacks would keep turnouts low.

Minneapolis and St. Paul election officials and a University voting expert believe the attacks either had no effect on the election or actually encouraged more citizens to vote.

Of 216,271 registered Minneapolis voters, 27.3 percent cast ballots. For Minneapolis primaries in 1993 and 1997, voter turnouts were 22.8 and 15 percent, respectively.

Precinct turnout in the 2nd Ward, where much of the Minneapolis campus is located, totaled 19 percent – more than 10 percentage points higher than the number in the 1997 primary.

Susanne Griffin, Minneapolis elections director, said the overall turnout is the highest she’s witnessed in a city primary.

In St. Paul, unofficial counts indicate that close to 38,000 people voted out of the more than 98,000 registered.

Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said the St. Paul turnout this year, expected to be around 35,000, was higher than the city had witnessed in several similar elections in the past.

“I don’t have any reason to believe that the attacks had any effect on the results at all,” Mansky said.

He added that weather can and often has threatened turnout numbers but said elections in past years have not been canceled because of it.

While it can’t be known exactly how Tuesday’s attacks affected voters, Harry Boyte, a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute and co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, said it’s likely Minnesota voters felt emboldened by the day’s events.

“I think there’s no doubt a crisis like this creates a sense of civic engagement,” Hoyte said.

Voting is closely related to civic activity, Hoyte said, and Tuesday’s outpouring of citizen activity – holding forums and vigils and giving blood – made people think of their public roles and duties, leading them to the polls.

He said voter turnouts typically are higher in times of national crisis and upheaval, such as the 1960s civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

“(Voter turnout) generally increases with social ferment,” Hoyte said.

State officials did consider postponing the elections in light of the terrorist attack.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said her office evaluated potential threats to voters and received several calls from candidates who voiced concerns about low turnout numbers.

Yet it was determined the safety of voters was not threatened, Kiffmeyer said. And because the attacks happened early in the day, state officials were able to get the word out early to citizens that the election would proceed, she added.

Even if there were significant threats, Kiffmeyer said a postponement would have been a complicated action, based on current statutes.

The law is silent on election postponements, she said, which means that – while being Minnesota’s chief election official – she would have to seek court approval for a delay.

A postponement probably would have been sought and granted only if the state had declared a state of emergency.

Kiffmeyer said a delay also would have gone against her democratic ideals.

Elections are the “critical act of a democracy,” and one of the actions the terrorists were targeting, she said.

“One of the best ways to spit in the eyes of the terrorists is to vote,” she said.

 

Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]