See more of the story

When it comes to voter turnout, the August primary and November general election aren't graded on the same scale and they're worlds apart.

Turnout for Tuesday's primary was unofficially 18% of Minnesota's nearly 4.2 million eligible voters. That's a fraction of the typical turnout for general elections, but Secretary of State Steve Simon called the number "relatively good" for a primary.

In nonpresidential years, turnout for elections is reliably lower, so Simon compared Tuesday with 2018. With hot gubernatorial primary races for both the DFL and GOP four years ago, he said, turnout was just shy of 23%,

"We were north of 18[%] without any of that," Simon said. "Given that there were no gubernatorial primaries, historically speaking, that's a strong turnout."

In primaries, voters get excited and show up when a specific race catches their attention. In general elections, turnout is always significantly higher because voters cast their ballots out of a sense of duty, said Simon, the DFL endorsee for re-election who handily survived his own primary challenge Tuesday.

"Primaries are so hard to gauge or predict — even in Minnesota where we vote like crazy — so much is dependent on whether there are engaging, interesting contests," he said.

Minnesota is typically near or at the top of states in voter turnout.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz and GOP-endorsee Scott Jensen, a former state senator, cruised through Tuesday's primary with minimal primary opposition. They will lead the ticket for the general election Nov. 8.

On Tuesday, two tough primary races in the state's most populous county likely aided turnout, Simon said. In Hennepin County, voters chose two candidates from a full field of contenders to advance to the general election in the race to replace retiring County Attorney Mike Freeman.

In the deep-blue Minneapolis-centered Fifth Congressional District, former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels tried unsuccessfully to unseat U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Simon also said the GOP attorney general's contest and First Congressional District races boosted turnout elsewhere.

Tuesday's turnout was much better than for some recent primaries. In 2014, turnout was just above 10%. Two years later, turnout didn't crack single digits — 7% and in a presidential year, no less.

Simon expects turnout in November to head north again. Despite that single-digit turnout in the 2016 primary, nearly 75% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the fall general election, even though Minnesota had no major statewide contests.

In 2018, the general election turnout was 64%. In 2020, during the pandemic and in a presidential year, the primary turnout was 22% and the November turnout was almost 80% — No. 1 in the nation.