Turnout was low last week. Not “midterm low,” or “unusually low,” but “historically low.” As we noted on Monday, it was probably the lowest since World War II. But it was possibly also one of the four lowest-turnout elections since the election of Thomas Jefferson. You know, before there was such a thing as “Alabama.” The U.S. Election Project, run by Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, compiles data on voter turnout over time. It’s tricky to estimate voter turnout in the 1700s and 1800s, and McDonald explains on his site how the numbers are calculated. So comparing 2014 to 1804 (the Jefferson example) should be considered a rough comparison at best. … The figure for 2014, currently 36.3 percent, is not yet final. McDonald explains that, too, in his compilation of vote tallies from the states. These numbers are not percentages of registered voters, the common metric for evaluating turnout. Instead, McDonald compares the number of votes with the number of people in the state eligible to vote.
The incomplete 2014 data uses a less-precise “votes for the highest office on the ballot” figure for that first number. Since some people vote only for other races, it’s a less-precise assessment. But since turnout in last Tuesday’s election has been the subject of much discussion (includingseveral attempts to assess any effects of voter ID laws) we pulled the equivalent highest-office data from the last four midterm elections to see how states fared. Below, the ten states with the highest and lowest turnout in 2014 — relative to the national average.