Minnesota tops in 'democracy index'

By Rob Hotakainen
Published July 27th 2005 in Minneapolis Star Tribune
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More proof that Minnesotans take their politics seriously: A new report ranks the state No. 1 in its "democracy index," saying Minnesotans led the nation in voter turnout and had the most competitive congressional races in 2004.

The report, called "Dubious Democracy 2005," ranked the states on a number of factors, including average margin of victory, voter turnout and the number of House races won by landslides.

Wisconsin ranked second in the index, followed by Missouri, Oregon and Colorado. Florida, Hawaii and Arkansas ranked last.

Minnesota took top honors even though all eight of the state's House members were reelected last year and six of the incumbents won by landslide margins of at least 20 percent.

The study, which was released Tuesday, said that's proof of how few states have thriving congressional elections.

Minnesota had the highest voter turnout last fall at 75 percent. But the study found that 54 percent of the state's eligible voters did not vote for the candidate who now represents them in Congress.

Even as Minnesota received a pat on the back, the report concluded that 2004 was the least competitive year ever in House elections across the country.

The report was conducted by FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Maryland that studies national elections.

The report noted that only five House incumbents lost to challengers, and that only 10 out of 435 races were won by margins of 5 percent or less. Nearly six of seven races were won by landslides of at least 20 percent.

Next year, with an open Senate seat and an open House seat on the ballot, Minnesota promises to be one of the nation's most politically competitive states. Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton is not seeking reelection, while Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy is giving up his Sixth District House seat to run for Dayton's seat.

Ryan O'Donnell, spokesman for FairVote, said the study's results show that Minnesotans have an "independent and participatory spirit" that makes their votes count more than voters in other states.

"It's not the case in Minnesota that one party can sweep. ... It's not like a Massachusetts," he said.

The report noted that since 1952, the White House has changed partisan control six times in 13 elections.

And while control of the Senate has switched hands several times, including five times in the past 25 years, control of the House has changed only once in 26 elections.

The report also found growing apathy toward Congress among voters: Nearly one of every 11 voters skipped over House races when they voted last year.

Rob Hotakainen is at rhotakainen@mcclatchydc.com.