December 3, 2012 by Sarah M
By Nick Halter
A historically high voter turnout and large number of unregistered voters are primarily to blame for long lines at many Minneapolis polling places, according to City Clerk Casey Carl.
Carl today gave the city Elections Committee a report on the 2012 election in Minneapolis. He apologized to voters who waited in long lines or dealt with other problems at about 25 percent of city polling locations.
“I can only offer my most sincere and most genuine apology,” Carl said before offering several recommendations to improve voting.
Voter turnout in Minneapolis reached 81 percent in 2012, according to Carl’s report. That is the highest turnout in Minneapolis in at least 40 years. Since 1972, voter turnout in Minneapolis has been in the range of 68 percent to 74 percent. Turnout was 72 percent in 2008.
Making matters more difficult, Carl said, was that 50,000 Minneapolis voters, or about 23 percent of the 216,000 people who cast ballots, were not registered to vote before coming to the polls. Registering voters at the polls slows the process down dramatically, Carl told the Council.
“That impact can not be overstated,” Carl said.
City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) complained of issues with results reporting. City results weren’t uploaded to the Secretary of the State’s results page until 12:20 a.m., leaving School Board candidates and those interested in the constitutional amendments staying up late waiting for results.
“I’ve never seen it like this, where we didn’t report anything until everything is in,” Goodman said.
Carl blamed that problem on a lack of dedicated absentee ballot counters. The judges who normally count absentee ballots were needed to help out at busy polls, and the city doesn’t report results until absentee ballots are counted, Carl said.
To deal with the problems, Carl proposed a number of changes at the city and state level.
He said the city should improve outreach to get more people to pre-register, so as to avoid registrations at the polls.
Carl also proposed early voting in Minnesota. The Minnesota Legislature would have to make that change. Residents in Minnesota can vote early, but they need to identify an approved reason for early voting. Other states allow people to cast absentee ballots without a reason.
“The goal of early voting is to provide a voter convenience along with overall relief in polling place congestion on Election Day,” Carl wrote in his report.
Another idea, Carl said, is to set up “vote centers” on Election Day where people can vote regardless of their precinct. That would make voting more convenient, Carl said. Nine states use vote centers, Carl said.
Council members on the Elections Committee were warm to Carl’s recommendations and directed staff to look into changes.
Some council members asked for more polling places. For instance, Meg Tuthill (Ward 10) said some polling places in her ward just aren’t big enough to handle the number of voters. The Southwest Journal noticed extremely long lines at the VFW on Lyndale Avenue South and at Painter Park.
The Elections Committee, at the request of Sandy Colvin Roy (Ward 12) added a staff direction to look for more polling places in some precincts, or even more precincts in each ward.