Part of a periodical series leading up to the 2012 general election.
MARSHALL - Voter ID. Same-sex marriage. Local sales tax. A trio of Lyon County commissioner races.
Those items make for some interesting coffee talk, and the former have spurred plenty of debate statewide. And in a few months, the fate of the Voter ID and same-sex marriage constitutional amendments will be known, as will the outcome of a local sales tax option in Marshall and all the contested races.
The issues and races are likely to crank up voter turnout in Marshall, not to mention the entire state.
And if that wasn't enough, let's not forget that all 201 seats in the state Legislature are open this year, waiting to be filled by incumbents or their challengers. And, of course, it's a presidential year. And with so many races, so many issues facing voters this year, it's likely Minnesota will once again be at or near the top when it comes to voter turnout in 2012.
"Minnesota is almost the highest turnout state in the union," which is measured by an estimate based on the number of votes cast compared to the estimated eligible voter pool, said Southwest Minnesota State University political science professor David Sturrock. "I think we've been number one seven of the last eight elections, for every two years."
Sturrock said there are always peaks and valleys when it comes to voter turnout, with higher numbers turning out to vote in a presidential year, like 2012 is.
He said the 2008 election was unusually high nationally with approximately 61 percent of eligible voters taking part in the election - the highest since 1968. While the U.S. might not hit that number this year, Minnesota, Sturrock said, could be looking at a record turnout, or at least get close to 2008 when about 78 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote. That year, 12,773 Lyon County residents voted.
"My best guess from what I've been reading throughout the year is that in raw number of votes cast, I don't think 2012 will be higher than 2008 nationally," he said. "Here in Minnesota it will be comparable because it's a presidential year; that overwhelms anything else. Plus, we have the two big ballot amendments, a U.S. Senate race like in 2008. Two-thousand-eight set a pretty high bar to cross."
Locally, Sturrock said, numbers are expected to be strong in Marshall, if for no other reason than it's a presidential year. The local sales tax option vote is just one more thing for people to vote for.
"The local option sales tax will make a significant difference here," Sturrock said. "But people who feel strongly one way or another were probably planning to vote anyhow because it's a presidential year. Voter turnout is already baked in the cake."
Lyon County Auditor/Treasurer Paula VanOverbeke said her office has been gearing up for the election for a while now. VanOverbeke, who is anticipating more absentee voting this year because it's a presidential year, and her staff have to have everything ready to go before the primary on Aug. 14.
"The presidential elections always have more voter turnout, but we still have to go through the steps for every election no matter what," she said. "We're starting our training next week for clerk training, then we'll go into election judge training, accuracy testing - we'll be doing all that within the next three weeks."
VanOverbeke said they will start getting their ballots together after state canvassing. She's also preparing for any recounts - in August for the primaries and November for the general election.
VanOverbeke said the county has already hired a temporary, 30-hour staff member to help with primaries and general election.
Sturrock, who conducts an exit poll with his students each election, said the amendments and local sales tax vote should make for an interesting election night.
"We have some interesting local races, too," Sturrock said. "The exit poll is student-driven as much as possible in terms of the questions they want to ask, how to set up the survey, how to design the sample. I think there will be a lot of interest in carrying out the survey and analyzing the results and sharing them with the community."