The Upper Midwest continued to set the pace for election turnout in this year’s mid-term elections. While preliminary, unofficial numbers are only available in some states, it appears the Upper Midwest has locked down 3 of the top 6 slots in voter turnout (turnout can be calculated by a variety of methods but is defined here as the total votes cast for the highest office on the ballot in a state divided by the number of people eligible by law to vote in that state).

Minnesota once again led the country with a turnout rate of 59.6%. This is the lowest mid-term voter performance in Minnesota since 1994 (54.2%). In 2002 63.1% of Minnesotans voted, nearly 3 points higher than 1998 (60.2%), and the highest level in more than 45 years.

Not surprisingly, South Dakota also had a very high turnout on Election Day at 57.8% – which was good for second best in the nation. This is an impressive number considering South Dakota did not have a competitive gubernatorial or at-large US House race this year. In 2002, the state’s turnout eclipsed 60% in the wake of one of the closest US Senate races in South Dakota history (with Democrat incumbent Tim Johnson edging John Thune by 500 votes). Turnout in 2006 may have been boosted by several referenda on the ballot, including a controversial abortion ban that was defeated by voters.

Wisconsin emerged with an impressive 52.6% turnout, and sixth best in the nation. This is the highest voter turnout in the Badger State since 1962 when 53.0% of Wisconsinites came to the polls. Voters were particularly engaged in the electoral process in 2006 by the state’s competitive governor’s race, a rare competitive US House race (in the 8th Congressional district), an unusually high-profile battle for Attorney General, and referenda on the death penalty and the definition of marriage. The 2006 turnout in Wisconsin was therefore noticeably higher than in recent mid-term elections: 44.8% in 2002, 46.1% in 1998, 42.5% in 1994, and 35.3% in 1990.

Iowa’s turnout in 2006 was 47.4%, good for 15th best in the United States, despite a high profile gubernatorial race and three competitive US House races out of five congressional districts. This level of voter interest in Iowa was on par with recent mid-term elections: 47.1% in 2002, 44.7% in 1998, 47.0% in 1994, and 48.3% in 1990.