MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota led the nation in voter turnout again this year with a remarkable 76 percent of voters going to the polls on Election Day.

But Minnesota lags behind many states in one election innovation: early voting. But that could change in a big way.

Doing Election Day Differently

Minnesota’s had the highest voter turnout in 12 of the past 16 elections. But it’s one of only 18 states that does not allow early voting.

Election officials are taking a hard look at changing that.

Minnesota’s high voter turnout is a big reason for those long lines on Election Day. But 267,000 Minnesotans also voted early, by absentee ballot.

State Rep. Steve Simon, the new House Elections Committee chairman, says the state should consider early voting for everyone.

“Why not make voting a little bit easier for everyday people who are busy, who have to get the kids to soccer practice, or basketball, or dance lessons?” Simon said. “Just make doing their civic duty a little bit easier.”

In the 32 states that allow early voting, polls are open four to 45 days before the election. And 12 of those states require poll centers be open on at least one Saturday or Sunday.

In Ramsey County this year, in-person absentee voting was bigger than ever. And elections director Joe Mansky says early voting for all can ease polling day congestion.

The Future

The future of voting is no voting booths at all. In Washington and Oregon voting is done by mail — only. That’s not coming to Minnesota anytime soon, but flexibility is a high priority.

“The general direction is to go away from a fixed, central election day, and towards a more flexible arrangement,” Simon said.

Minnesotans may be among the most highly educated people in the country on voting procedures. It’s been front and center for two years, and voters two weeks ago rejected a constitutional amendment which would have required photo identification before voting.

The Effects Of Early Voting

We heard a lot about early voting during the last presidential campaign. Both sides were claiming they were ahead in early voting in different states.

But does early voting make a difference for a particular party?

National election studies show early voting does not necessarily favor one party over another, or increase turnout. It has a lot more to do with the particular state, election and the local issues.

Pat Kessler