After record-breaking turnout for this month’s primary, the Minneapolis City Council is poised to approve $1.2 million to expand early voting opportunities and voter education for the 2018 general election.
City Clerk Casey Carl, the city’s chief elections official, said the additional money would pay for opening three more early vote centers during the last week of early voting. The city would also send voter guides to every household, reminding residents when and how to vote and what’s on the ballot.
“I think having access to early voting outside of just downtown is something that was really successful a couple of elections ago,” said Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who joined Council Member Abdi Warsame in requesting more voter outreach and expanded early voting.
“While most people overwhelmingly still vote on Election Day, increasingly we are seeing folks taking advantage of early voting,” Ellison said. “To expand that just feels really intuitive.”
All ballots for each of the city 132 precincts would be available at each of the early vote centers, where anyone in the city could go to vote, Carl said. But extra costs are involved.
“Early voting is really popular amongst demographics that either need physical assistance or translation, and so I have to recruit translators and staff them,” Carl said. “That increases my staffing costs, and then I have to have all those ballot styles at multiple locations. That increases my operating costs.”
The Minneapolis City Council Ways and Means Committee approved the additional $1.2 million request without discussion Tuesday. If the City Council approves the resolution on Friday, the city’s total budget for the 2018 election will be $4 million, an increase of about 40 percent over what was approved last year. In 2017, the city spent $2.35 million to conduct a single municipal election in November.
“Elections are important,” said Mark Ruff, the city’s chief financial officer. “We are devoting resources to it.”
Minneapolis voters came out in record numbers for the Aug. 14 primary, with 101,000 people casting ballots. Voters were choosing DFL and GOP nominees to vie for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s open seat as well as party nominees for governor, two U.S. Senate seats and attorney general. Turnout was highest in the 12th Ward in south Minneapolis, where 48 percent of registered voters cast votes. The 5th Ward on the North Side had the lowest turnout, at 23 percent.
The citywide primary turnout exceeded the previous record set in 1968, when 88,000 people voted.
“Given the record turnout, I think that staff wanted to make sure that there was no question that there was an appropriately sized budget,” said Micah Intermill, the city’s budget director.
Early voting for the midterm elections starts Sept. 21 and will run through Nov. 5.