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Minnesota vote up, but more voters possible

ST. PAUL -- More than 76 percent of Minnesota's eligible voters cast ballots Nov. 6, best in the country, but the state's top election official says even more would participate if they could vote early.

In this year's election, 2,950,780 Minnesotans voted. That is the most ever, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, and while final numbers are not in, he said that he is sure Minnesota has the highest percentage in the country.

"We're No. 1 by many," he said.

Ritchie's comments came after the State Canvassing Board approved returns from Nov. 6 voting. Only minor changes were reported from returns posted soon after the election.

The board approved procedures similar to the past two elections for a pair of legislative recounts, one in the Alexandria area and another south of the Twin Cities.

Ritchie said he thinks young people helped boost the number of voters, but has seen no reports to back that up. This year's election attracted more than 30,000 more voters than four years ago, state Elections Director Gary Poser said.

Allowing Minnesotans to vote early would help even more, he said. However, he added, since the state already leads the country in turnout, increased numbers would be modest.

Voting has increased in the few rural voting precincts where mail-in voting is allowed, Ritchie said.

Minnesota does not allow general early voting. It does allow absentee votes, in cases such as when a voter would be out of the precinct on Election Day.

Ritchie said he would not produce an early-voting plan, calling that a legislative duty. However, he does plan to meet with Senate election leader Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, in coming days.

Another election issue Ritchie said should be handled is what to do if a disaster hits on or near Election Day.

"We need a plan," Ritchie said.

Ritchie pointed out problems like Hurricane Sandy produced in the northeastern United States when it hit just before the election. There also was the infamous Halloween blizzard of 1991 that stopped activity in much of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

The Canvassing Board approved rules governing two state legislative recounts, following examples used in the 2008 U.S. Senate and 2010 governor elections.

In Douglas and Otter Tail counties, House District 8B is the tightest legislative race. Republican Rep. Mary Franson leads Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff by 11 votes. Franson's lead earlier was a single vote, but it expanded after mistakes were found that forced election officials to withdraw 35 ballots.

The Franson-Cunniff recount begins Wednesday morning in Douglas County and Thursday in Otter Tail County. Every ballot will be hand counted.

In Senate District 20, Democrat Kevin Dahle leads Republican Mike Dudley by 78 votes. That district is in LeSueur, Rice and Scott counties of southern Minnesota.

Results from both recounts are due back to the State Canvassing Board before Dec. 4.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.