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Secretary of State hoping for 80 percent voter turnout

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WILLMAR -- He's not up for election, but Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has been traveling around the state the last few days like a candidate in a big contest.

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Ritchie is making the circuit on college campuses and media outlets to remind all first-time voters of today's deadline to pre-register for this year's election. Minnesota allows same-day registration at the polls, but registering ahead of time can shorten lines at polling places Nov. 4. Ritchie said Minnesota could see a record voter turnout.

Ritchie, speaking Monday in Willmar, said he's hoping to see voter turnout in Minnesota top 80 percent and once again lead the nation. Registration numbers lead him to believe the state is on track to do so. Some 70,000 new voters have registered this year. As many as 150,000 could register at the polls. Some predict the state could top its performance in the 1956 presidential race between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower, when 82 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Ritchie pointed out that the minimum voting age has been lowered since 1956.

"If we hit 80 percent, I will feel great,'' said Ritchie. Minnesota has more than 3.2 million registered voters or about 85 percent of those eligible to vote; an 80 percent turnout would represent roughly 3 million voters.

Ritchie said he's confident that the state is up to the task of handling record numbers of voters this year. It managed a turnout of greater than 77 percent in the 2004 presidential election without any serious problems, he pointed out.

To prepare for this year's expected record turnout, the state has added more election judges and made certain that all polling places are stocked with lots of extra ballots.

This year's primary election and the subsequent statewide recount that was needed in one race also helped prepare the election teams for what's ahead, he said.

Ritchie said he used to believe that Minnesota led the nation in voter turnout because we're "nice'' people. He doesn't discount that idea, but credits Minnesota's sense of civic responsibility with building an election system that works.

The state has done a good job of removing barriers and making people feel welcome at the polls. Minnesota has also built a voting system that people trust, he explained.

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