Poll close in Minn.; pushing to record turnout numbersby Paul Tosto, Minnesota Public Radio,
Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Polls closed minutes ago across Minnesota after voters packed high school gyms, churchs and community halls across the state to have their say on issues from school levies to the next president. That presidential race, at least, turned out to be an easy call. Within 10 minutes of the polls closing, the Associated Press reported Democrat Barack Obama won the vote here.
Yolanda Mix of Richfield voted for Obama, figuring he better knows the problems confronting people struggling to make ends meet.
"He's walked in our shoes -- walked with us, not on top of us. He knows what we went through and how we struggled. So, he knows what we need to get by in this world," Mix said.
State election officials were predicting an 80-plus percent voter turnout -- numbers not seen since Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson battled in 1956. People apparently got the message to come early if they could. As 8 p.m. approached tonight, several polling places in uptown Minneapolis were virtually deserted with poll watchers saying the evening traffic wasn't nearly as heavy as the morning rush.
Dave Fritzke, a poll worker in Crystal, said 90 minutes before the polls closed 1,555 voters had cast ballots in precinct 1 at the Neill Elementary School polling location and 350 people had voted absentee. That's out of 2,025 registered voters for a whopping 95 percent turnout.
"I showed up expecting big lines and everyone had already voted," said Fritzke, noting there were 150 people waiting in line to vote at 7 a.m.
In interviews across the state, voters seemed upbeat generally about the elections and the prospects for change whoever's elected. Voting went smoothly for the most part, although there were pockets of problems.
Gunshots fired around 4:45 p.m. in the vicinity of the Rice Street Library startled voters waiting outside the St. Paul polling location, a witness said. Pete Panos, public information officer for the St. Paul Police Department, said the gunfire occurred near but not at the library, located at 1011 Rice Street. No one was injured.
Chris Stinson, Minnesota political director for ACORN, was at the library at the time along with about 30 to 40 voters. "My first thought was fireworks," Stinson said, until he saw a couple of boys running and the police in pursuit.
Kids playing in the park across the street from the library screamed and scattered when they heard the shots, Stinson said.
The scene at most polling locations was busy but hardly chaotic.
Bloomington precinct supervisor Mario Impagliazzo acknowledged that poll workers in precinct 2 initially were confused about identification requirements, and improperly asked registered voters for their IDs. Impagliazzo said he received a phone all alerting him to the problem and he corrected it.
Some voters were approaching poll workers with identification in hand, contributing to the confusion, he added.
Ninety minutes before the polls closed, Impagliazzo predicted an 85 to 95 percent turnout in precinct, and expected to sign up a total of 350 new voters.
Sarah Coleman, an Obama supporter from St. Paul, voted at a senior citizen high rise across the street from her house. It is also the voting location for Hamline University students.
"What a treat to see all the elders lined up in their chairs enjoying the energy of so many first time voters. A joyful snapshot of the human life cycle. I especially enjoyed all of the college students taking pictures of each other before and after their vote," Coleman said.
"I have two first-time voters of my own and their excitement along with the Hamline students offers hope and energy for the future."
Some voters who said they'd registered before today's election told Minnesota Public Radio News their names weren't showing up on voter roles. Allen Hill of St. Louis Park says he was one of the first people in line to vote this morning when he found out he wasn't listed as a registered voter.
There were scattered reports of people being asked for ID before voting. Mary Bischoff of Buffalo said that "as a registered voters, I didn't think I had to show a picture I.D. The election judge told me I had to because he didn't know me. It was for their protection."
No one should be asked for their ID at the polls if they're pre-registered, said Beth Fraser with the Secretary of State's office. Election judges may be asking because they think it's easier to find people in the rolls if they can see their names in print, but they shouldn't be asking, she said. People do not have to show their IDs to get their ballots, Fraser added.
In other places, officials were busy trying to set the record right on misleading information.
Some people in Minnesota, and around the country, have received text messages saying they can vote tomorrow. According to the Minnesota Obama campaign, the messages specifically say Obama supporters can wait until Wednesday to vote. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says such messages are illegal.
The morning rush fell to a steady pace in the afternoon. In some spots, voters waited 30 minutes to an hour to cast their ballots, though lines were as short as five minutes in some areas of the Twin Cities.
Sharon Finke, deputy auditor for Big Stone County in western Minnesota, said her precincts are indicating a high turnout, especially among young people.
"I would say there [are] more young people certainly than I've seen in the last 15 to 20 years," Finke said. "There's been more people that have registered this year, which is great."
Throughout the day, voters emailed and phoned Minnesota Public Radio about isolated problems with ballot scanners, wait-times at polls and names not being on the voter rolls. Others described the mood at polling site as "exciting" and "fabulous."
Jolene Johnson Armstrong, a doctoral student living in Minneapolis, waited for about 30 minutes before casting her ballot.
"The lines at my precinct were running at about half and hour, and if anything still seemed to be getting longer at 9am. There was huge minority turnout, with plenty of Hmong, Somali, Mexican and other ethnic groups present. I happened to be the only white person in line when I was there. Everyone seemed really excited to vote and no one was complaining about the long lines. There was a steady stream of people registering to vote as well. It made me really proud to be a Minnesotan and American!"
By mid-morning, some 1,400 customers in St. Paul's Merriam Park neighborhood were without power after a car struck a power pole. Two polling locations were affected by the power outage in St. Paul: Maxfield School and Dunning Rec Center, according to Ramsey County election official Charlie Thompson.
The power was out for about an hour, but people continued voting. The ballots cast during that time were placed in the machines' emergency ballot holders and later scanned, Thompson said. The process was monitored by a representative from each party.
Also, the Minnesota Secretary of State's Web site crashed for about 30 minutes Tuesday morning, most likely due to a large volume of visitors. The Web is now back online and fully functional.
In the eastern Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, many people waiting to vote said they wanted to beat the rush and make it to work on time. More than 200 people waited inside the Woodbury City Hall, while about 100 waited outside. A half hour into voting, there were already no parking spaces left.
A few voters arrived, saw the long line, and said they'd come back later. Most who were waiting in lines had already made up their minds about whom to vote for.
Anthony Daniel, 46, brought his 7-year-old daughter, Nia, and 8-year-old son, Jerrell, along to cast his ballot for Obama. When asked why he was supporting the senator from Illinois, Nia tugged at his arm and said, "I know that. Because he's the first brown president like us."
Daniel said that isn't his main reason for voting for Obama, saying the economy and fairness were the top things on his mind. But he said he's glad he could bring his children to watch him vote.
It's part of history. I wanted them to be a part of it," he said.
Another voter, Amy Newton, 25, said she voted for McCain because of her own anti-abortion views and because of McCain's experience. Newton, who is white, said her brother returned from Iraq last week and "having heard what he is going through, I find myself needing to support someone with military experience for commander in chief."
The presidential candidates, Minnesota's U.S. Senate contenders, congressional hopefuls and state representatives are all on the ballot. Many county and local offices are on the ballot as well, and 56 school districts have levy or bond questions before voters.
A constitutional amendment to raise the state sales tax to fund preservation of hunting, recreational and natural resources, as well as arts and culture, is also on the ballot.
More than 3 million voters are on the rolls in Minnesota. Polls are open until 8 p.m. tonight.
(Reporters Annie Baxter, Lorna Benson, Jim Bickal, Molly Bloom, Michael Caputo, Ambar Espinoza, Linda Fantin, Martin Moylan, Dan Olson, Melody Ng, and Tim Post contributed to this report, which was supplemented by The Associated Press.)
- All Things Considered, 11/04/2008, 5:20 p.m.
Paul Tosto is an online reporter and blogger for MPR News.