Has cost-cutting gone too far in Minneapolis when it comes to designing election precincts?

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office recommends that election precincts hold no more than 2,000 to 2,500 voters, measured by the number preregistering and not counting those who register on Election Day.

Minneapolis had 17 precincts of more than 2,500 preregistered voters last November, according to a Star Tribune analysis of election data. The biggest was 3,912 in Ward 6, Precinct 4 in the Whittier neighborhood.  That means that one out of every seven precincts was stuffed beyond the state’s guideline.

The city cut the number of precincts from 131 to 117 for the 2012 elections, a cost-cutting move that saved $30,000.  It also reduced the number of big precincts slightly, from the 21 that had more than 2,500 voters in the last presidential election in 2008. Seven of the 14 eliminated precincts had more than 3,000 voters, so the city clerk’s office said this actually evened out the number of voters per precinct.

The vote-rich 11th and 13th Wards, in the city’s southeastern and southwestern corners, had the most overstuffed precincts with four apiece, followed by the Second and  Eighth Wards, with two precincts each exceeding the guidelines.

Minneapolis had 182 precincts in 1990, with an average of 1,237 voters per precinct. That average was 1,829 in 2012, and if the last year’s presidential election had drawn the same turnout as 2008, the average number of voters per precinct would have topped 2,050.

Cam Gordon

Cam Gordon

Arguably, the city has too few precincts for presidential elections, like this year when a variety of snafus  produced lines that lasted hours at a few precincts.  But just as arguably, it operates too many precincts for low-turnout years like 2009, when far fewer voters turned out in a lackluster municipal election year. The problem faced by the council in drawing precinct lines is striking a balance that serves both.

Council Member Cam Gordon, who chairs the Elections Committee, said it will get an update on Feb. 27 on efforts to address the long voting lines at some precincts. But he cautioned that the simple number of voters may not be the prime factor causing voting delays.  More important are such factors as the number of voters registering on Election Day, the number of people needing interpreters and how adequately the facility can accommodate those who turn out.

And if those in the 17 Minneapolis precincts with more than 2,500 voters want to feel sorry for themselves, consider the state’s largest precinct in Monticello.  It had 6,164 preregistered voters.