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Voters wait in a line of more than 150 people Tuesday morning at Sibley Park in south Minneapolis.

Colleen Kelly, Star Tribune

Election official offers ways to fix voting problems

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • December 3, 2012 - 9:37 PM

First, City Clerk Casey Carl apologized to Minneapolis voters for last month's voting snafus, then he recommended how to keep them from recurring.

The city's top election official told the City Council on Monday that hours-long lines, voters showing up at wrong precincts and late reporting of results arose from a number of factors: an extraordinary turnout with huge numbers of Election Day registrants, redistricting, precinct changes and technical problems ranging from balky pens to misprinted ballots.

Carl recommended working with Hennepin County to buy new voting machines, changing state law to allow early voting for any reason and voting at centralized kiosks, plus mobilizing more City Hall workers to form a rapid-response team of election judges for Election Day.

He started with his "most sincere and most genuine apology" for waits in line of up to three hours, cramped polling places and confusion over precinct changes.

Carl said that the logjam from the city's 81 percent turnout -- which was matched statewide -- was exacerbated by one-quarter of those voting registering to do so at the polls, compared with only 18 percent statewide. That slowed lines for those voters and consumed the time of election judges, he said.

Carl also noted that because of the low turnout in the primary, he may have underestimated how many voters would show up on Election Day. The jump in turnout was 70 percentage points over the primary, the biggest in more than 40 years.

"An hour wait is too long to vote in my mind, especially in this climate," Council Member Meg Tuthill admonished.

Compounding the issue were technical breakdowns. First, the boxes of new pens sent to each precinct didn't write. Then scanners at many precincts didn't read sometimes poorly printed ballots a mere seven days after the city tested the machines. Those problems snowballed during the day, creating the lines, Carl said. Getting election results was delayed when a high-speed scanner for absentee ballots malfunctioned, meaning that remaining ballots from a precinct couldn't be released under state law.

Carl said the city boosted the number of election judges by more than 30 percent from 2008 to deal with potential confusion caused by redistricting and seven new polling places. But he said the central elections staff was so consumed by putting out fires in precincts that it was unable to handle other necessary tasks.

Some of the changes he urged require legislative action. Those include going to an early voting system already in place in 32 states in which people can vote early for any reason. Voting may be by mail or at special voting centers.

Carl also urged that Minnesota join nine other states that allow votes to be cast outside a precinct at voter centers on Election Day, which requires use of electronic poll books -- already in use in Minnetonka -- to notify the home precinct.

Carl said it's imperative that the county-owned voting equipment the city uses be replaced. The council directed him to meet with the county with an eye toward replacing machines in time for city elections in 11 months, but those discussions have been going on for years, held up by trying to accommodate the city's desire to obtain equipment for ranked-choice voting.

Council budget cuts also played a role in the lines. The number of polling places in Minneapolis has been cut from 182 in 1990 to 117. That means an average of 1,844 registered voters per precinct, compared with 1,517 in 1992. The average cost of a polling place is about $7,400.

The council, meeting in committee, also directed Carl to review all polling places and replace problematic ones, and to develop multi-year election budgets.

Steve Brandt - 612 673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

POLL PROBLEMS

• Hours wait in line for some voters

• Voters at the wrong precincts

• Late reporting of results

• Pens not working

• Scanner malfunction

Proposed solutions:

• Going to an early voting system (already in place in 32 states)

• Allow votes to be cast outside a precinct

• Replace county-owned voting equipment

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