A new ranked-voting method used by Minneapolis costs five times more per voter than traditional voting. The city is $385,000 shy.
With still-fresh memories of long voting lines in November and slow vote tallies from the last Minneapolis elections in 2009, the city took steps Wednesday aimed at improving voting this fall. But it may have aimed short on the money to get the job done.
City Clerk Casey Carl told the City Council’s Elections Committee on Wednesday that he’s short $385,000 of the nearly $1.7 million that’s needed to properly run the more expensive ranked-choice voting method the city uses for municipal elections.
Election costs will run even higher this year than last year, when the city had a massive 82 percent presidential election turnout, he said. That’s despite an expected smaller turnout for the 22 races and a probable charter referendum.
Ranked-choice balloting debuted in 2009 but cost the city five times more than traditional voting. This year the city also has to train workers on expected new voting equipment.
Carl said that he can cover the still-needed funds if he’s allowed to shift $385,000 that his office saved last year by keeping four positions vacant. But the council deferred that request to a late March budget session.
Meanwhile, the committee, which consists of all 13 council members — although only nine attended — gave the go-ahead to a number of efforts to improve voting after 2012 problems that left lines that took hours and caused confusion in some precincts.
A panel of outsiders will help the city devise standards to measure the suitability of polling places, the clerk’s office will review the number and locations of polling places, and plans will be developed to target voter outreach to areas with low turnout, high minority populations or more ranked-choice voting errors.
But the big question looming over municipal voting this year is whether the city can shorten how long it takes to count ballots. It took 15 days in 2009 to hand-count ballots and allocate second- and third-choice votes where required to determine a winner. Casey said one big way to simplify counting is to eliminate the requirement for counting all voter choices in races where it’s clear that a candidate won on first-choice votes alone, as Mayor R.T. Rybak did with 74 percent in 2009.
Another big improvement would be getting new voting equipment that could automate much of the counting process. Hennepin County has set a deadline of Friday for proposals for replacing its voting equipment, which Minneapolis and other cities will use. Such equipment is awaiting state certification that it meets requirements of state election laws, but the state has said it’s up to the city to test the equipment to make sure it works properly for ranked-choice voting. The committee voted to seek clarification of what that means.
Carl said he asked last year for an extra $250,000 to cover 2013 election costs but got just $100,000 more from the mayor and City Council. He said he’s upping the request because it’s now clear that workers will need more training now that there will be new equipment and because he expects that the mayoral race to succeed the retiring Rybak will draw more voters.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438