Optical Scan Ballot (minnesota.publicradio.org).
by Tony Petrangelo
Oct 30, 2012, 7:00 AM

How many will leave Constitutional Amendments blank?

I’m sure many of you are aware of this fact, but here it is anyway, for a constitutional amendment to pass in Minnesota, it must receive 50%+1 of all the votes cast in the entire election. Not just 50%+1 of the votes cast on the amendment itself.

For practical purposes this means that some portion of ballots will essentially be counted as no votes because the voter doesn’t vote on the question. The big unknown is what this percentage, from heretofore known as the “drop off”, will be.

The most recent constitutional amendment that the state of Minnesota voted on was (what is now known as) the Legacy Amendment, all the way back in 2008. Here is a table showing how that amendment fared:

Legacy amendment Votes
Yes 1635046
No 1141540
Blanks 143628
Total Voters 2920214
Drop off 4.9%

Before that there was the Transportation amendment in 2006:

Transportation amendment Votes
Yes 1270042
No 838196
Blanks 109580
Total Voters 2217818
Drop off 4.9%

In both cases there was the same 5% drop off between the total number of voters in the election and the total number of people who voted on the amendment.

Before that there were three amendments on the ballot in 1998. One had to do with gambling and one hunting, with both of those passing easily. The third, to abolish the office of State Treasurer, was much closer.

First the amendment dealing with the lottery:

Lottery amendment Votes
Yes 1556895
No 460747
Blanks 88341
Total Voters 2105983
Drop off 4.2%

And than the hunting and fishing amendment:

Hunting and Fishing amendment Votes
Yes 1570720
No 462749
Blanks 72514
Total Voters 2105983
Drop off 3.4%

And finally the amendment to abolish the office of the State Treasurer:

Abolish State Treasurer Votes
Yes 1087789
No 855853
Blanks 162341
Total Voters 2105983
Drop off 7.7%

Averaging all of these results together gives us an average amendment drop off of exactly 5%.

(There have been many more amendments than that, but the Secretary of States Website only has election information going back to 1998. A comprehensive list of past Minnesota Constitutional Amendments can be found here, courtesy of MinnPost).

Looking at the above tables there is one amendment that experienced a drop off rate that was noticeably less than the average of the amendments. This was the amendment having to do with hunting and fishing.

And what exactly was the amendment question that voters saw?

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to affirm that hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good?

This amendment is unlike the other four in that it doesn’t really deal with the government itself, but is simply a statement of values. I guess. Actually, it’s more like naming a Post Office via a constitutional amendment. Given what it is, it’s not surprising that this amendment experienced the least amount of drop off.

The amendment that experienced the largest drop off, almost 8%, is the one that abolished the office of the State Treasurer. The wording on that one was:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to abolish the office of state treasurer?

While the question itself is very straight forward, if you hadn’t heard anything about this issue prior to stepping into the voting booth, it would be difficult to figure out exactly what the ramifications of eliminating the office the state treasurer might be.

Unlike with the Hunting and Fishing amendment, it is clear that this amendment would actually change the nature of government in some way. And unlike with the other three amendments we’re discussing here, there is no attempt to explain what the effect will be or why.

Right in the middle of the distribution, getting about a 5% drop off, are the three amendments dealing with taxes and the spending of government revenue. I won’t quote all three (there are links above if you’re interested), but they all mention where the money is coming from; a sales tax, or motor vehicle tax or from the lottery. And they all talk about where the money is being spent.

With these three amendments, there is enough information in the ballot questions themselves so that someone who was unfamiliar with them prior to stepping into the voting booth can at least feel like they’ve made an informed decision.

Which brings us to the question at the heart of this post, how many people will leave the amendment questions blank this November 6th? To answer that question we need to know what is actually driving the drop off in votes.

It’s tempting, especially based on the way in which I’ve explained the differences in the wording of the amendments, to jump to the conclusion that the independent variable driving the differences in voter drop off rates is the typical voters understanding (or perception of understanding) of the effects of the amendment.

This would help to explain why there is such variance in drop off percentages within a single year, 1998. In that year the hunting and fishing amendment experienced a 3.4% drop off, while the amendment to abolish the state treasurer experienced a 7.7% drop off.

If I was to proceed with the hypothesis that the independent variable is a typical voters understanding of the amendment question, to actually figure out a way to quantify that variable and than to apply that to the current amendment questions, is way beyond the scope of this post.

It’s clear there will be some drop off though. The question is how much of a drop off. Both the average and the median drop off of the five amendments examined in this post is 5%.

Of that group of amendments though, it could be argued that one of them was difficult to understand (again, not the actual question, but the ramifications of the question). If we remove that amendment from the average, that makes it 4.4%.

Based on all of this I’m going to estimate a drop off of between 4% and 5% (that’s what I call definitive!) for the two constitutional amendments.

Marriage Amendment Polling Graph
Photo Voter ID Polling Graph

Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.