Voter Turnout

Judging from election statistics in 1986, 1990, and 1994, the Bay State is only fair-to-middling in getting voters to the polls in non-presidential years. The true paragons of civic virtue are Minnesota and South Dakota, which along with Montana, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, and Vermont, rank ahead of Massachusetts in all three tables below. (Yet to be determined: Does cold weather cause higher voter turnout?) Voting experts say it is not meaningful to compare states by the percent of registered voters who turn out, due to widespread discrepancies in the way states maintain their registration lists. The preferred comparison looks at how much of the voting-age population turns out. Of course, each state has races of varying levels of excitement from year to year, which affects turnout. In the 1986 Massachusetts governor’s race, there was little drama in the contest between Michael Dukakis and George Kariotis (almost 1.7 million people voted). The 1990 face-off between William Weld and John Silber brought more voters out (2.3 million). Interest waned slightly (2.2 million voters) as Weld faced Mark Roosevelt in 1994.

1986
Rank State Voting-age population Registered voters
1. N. Dakota 63.6% N/A
2. S. Dakota 59.4% 69.2%
3. Idaho 55.8% 70.4%
4. Montana 55.5% 73.4%
5. Oregon 54.7% 72.4%
6. Vermont 50.6% 60.7%
7. Alaska 48.5% 62.7%
8. Nebraska 48.3% 66.4%
9. Maine 47.8% 54.1%
10. Wyoming 47.0% 70.2%
11. Minnesota 46.1% 55.7%
12. Kansas 46.0% 71.7%
13. Louisiana 44.5% 62.9%
14. Iowa 44.1% 56.6%
15. Hawaii 43.9% 81.9%
16. California 43.4% 59.4%
17. Wisconsin 43.4% N/A
18. Colorado 42.6% 58.2%
19. Utah 42.3% 58.3%
20. Rhode Island 42.3% 61.5%
21. Alabama 41.1% 52.3%
22. Washington 41.1% 60.9%
23. Connecticut 40.7% 59.5%
24. Arizona 39.7% 52.4%
25. Arkansas 39.5% 58.5%
26. Ohio 39.2% 52.1%
27. Illinois 38.9% 55.3%
28. Missouri 38.7% 53.3%
29. Indiana 38.6% 54.1%
30. Oklahoma 37.9% 45.1%
31. Pennsylvania 37.4% 57.9%
32. Michigan 37.2% 42.6%
33. Massachusetts 37.1% 56.0%
34. New Mexico 35.9% 62.4%
35. Florida 35.7% 60.9%
36. Tennessee 34.4% 49.5%
37. Nevada 33.6% 71.2%
38. Delaware 32.9% 54.4%
39. N. Carolina 32.4% 51.6%
40. Georgia 32.1% 47.6%
41. Maryland 31.9% 52.0%
42. New York 31.9% 53.2%
43. S. Carolina 31.2% 59.1%
44. New Hampshire 30.5% 45.6%
45. Kentucky 29.1% 39.2%
46. Mississippi 28.1% 31.7%
47. Texas 28.0% 47.2%
48. West Virginia 27.6% 41.9%
49. New Jersey 26.2% 41.1%
50. Virginia 23.0% 40.0%
U.S. Average 40.0% 56.6%
 

1990
Rank State Voting-age population Registered voters
1. Minnesota 56.7% 65.1%
2. Montana 56.7% 75.0%
3. Maine 56.1% 59.9%
4. Oregon 52.4% 75.4%
5. S. Dakota 52.3% 61.9%
6. Alaska 52.0% 66.0%
7. Vermont 51.3% 61.4%
8. Massachusetts 51.0% 72.9%
9. N. Dakota 50.7% N/A
10. Nebraska 50.3% 66.7%
11. Wyoming 48.6% 72.1%
12. Rhode Island 47.2% 67.8%
13. Iowa 46.9% 62.3%
14. Louisiana 46.6% 65.8%
15. Idaho 46.0% 59.4%
16. Connecticut 45.4% 67.1%
17. Kansas 43.2% 66.8%
18. Ohio 42.8% 59.6%
19. Arizona 42.3% 58.9%
20. Utah 41.9% 58.6%
21. Hawaii 41.5% 78.2%
22. Colorado 41.3% 53.2%
23. California 41.0% 58.6%
24. N. Carolina 40.8% 61.9%
25. Alabama 39.7% 51.2%
26. Illinois 39.4% 56.7%
27. Arkansas 39.1% 57.1%
28. Michigan 38.7% 44.8%
29. Wisconsin 38.7% N/A
30. Oklahoma 38.7% 45.3%
31. Indiana 37.8% 54.7%
32. New Mexico 37.7% 62.5%
33. Nevada 37.4% 62.2%
34. Washington 37.3% 61.2%
35. Kentucky 36.0% 52.6%
36. Delaware 35.0% 60.2%
37. Florida 34.8% 58.6%
38. Missouri 34.8% 49.2%
39. New Hampshire 34.3% 44.8%
40. Pennsylvania 33.1% 54.0%
41. New Jersey 32.4% 52.1%
42. Texas 32.0% 50.6%
43. Maryland 30.7% 52.0%
44. Georgia 30.5% 52.3%
45. South Carolina 30.3% 58.4%
46. West Virginia 30.2% 45.7%
47. New York 29.9% 49.5%
48. Virginia 24.3% 42.1%
49. Tennessee 21.6% 32.1%
50. Mississippi 19.7% 23.2%
U.S. Average 40.4% 57.7%

 

1994
Rank State Voting-age population Registered voters
1. New Hampshire 64.7% 82.6%
2. S. Dakota 62.5% 73.8%
3. Montana 61.3% 69.8%
4. Wyoming 59.5% 86.1%
5. Maine 5.0% 54.6%
6. Oregon 54.9% 68.4%
7. Minnesota 53.4% 62.8%
8. Idaho 52.2% 67.0%
9. N. Dakota 50.8% N/A
10. Nebraska 49.8% 64.5%
11. Alaska 49.7% 63.4%
12. Vermont 49.4% 56.8%
13. Massachusetts 48.9% 70.8%
14. Iowa 48.4% 62.7%
15. Rhode Island 47.3% 65.4%
16. California 47.0% 60.5%
17. Connecticut 46.9% 65.1%
18. Michigan 45.5% 51.2%
19. Missouri 45.5% 60.1%
20. Kansas 44.3% 63.6%
21. Ohio 44.0% 57.3%
22. Colorado 43.7% 57.7%
23. Washington 43.3% 59.8%
24. Utah 43.2% 57.8%
25. Hawaii 42.4% 77.3%
26. Oklahoma 41.8% 48.7%
27. Virginia 41.8% 69.3%
28. New Mexico 41.6% 68.0%
29. Tennessee 41.5% 56.6%
30. Wisconsin 41.4% N/A
31. Arkansas 39.5% 56.2%
32. Pennsylvania 38.9% 61.0%
33. Maryland 38.3% 60.7%
34. Alabama 38.3% 52.7%
35. New York 38.1% 59.0%
36. Arizona 37.8% 55.6%
37. Delaware 37.6% 57.8%
38. Indiana 37.6% 54.1%
39. Illinois 37.0% 52.6%
40. S. Carolina 35.7% 63.4%
41. New Jersey 35.7% 55.2%
42. Nevada 35.0% 60.9%
43. Texas 33.6% 50.9%
44. Mississippi 32.6% 37.5%
45. Georgia 32.5% 51.4%
46. West Virginia 30.3% 47.6%
47. N. Carolina 29.8% 41.1%
48. Louisiana 29.4% 40.4%
49. Kentucky 29.0% 38.8%
50. Florida 17.4% 28.9%
U.S. Average 42.9% 58.9%
Source: Turnout percentages calculated by CommonWealth based on figures from The Book of the States, 1996-97 (The Council of State Governments), and the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.