Minn. voter turnout falls short of the recordby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota voters packed the polls yesterday. About 2.8 million people voted, about the same number that showed up at the polls in 2004. While they came short of breaking a record, it's still destined to be one of the best turnouts in the nation, if not the best.
Election Day enthusiasm created long lines at polling places -- in some locations, up to two hours long. But aside from scattered complaints, the process went relatively smoothly.
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesotans heeded a call to keep the state a national leader in voter turnout. And Mary Smith couldn't be prouder.
"It's been wonderful; it's been marvelous. We had a line outside that came around, came inside, snaked all the way around to the back hallway, looped back, came back this way and came into the door," said Smith.
Smith has been an election judge in North Minneapolis for more than three decades. She remembers when only 37 people showed up to a primary election in her precinct.
Compare that with Tuesday night. With still an hour left before closing time, more than 1,600 people had marked their ballots at the Minneapolis Urban League polling place. Many were young, black and first-time voters. The turnout shattered a record for Smith's precinct.
"I'm so proud of Minnesota. I keep telling people, what happened in Florida could not happen here. Our system is so good. We've got paper trails, we got backups. So what happens other places cannot happen here. The state of Minnesota cares about their voters, and you can quote me on that," said Smith.
But there were a few glitches throughout the night. Minnesota Public Radio heard from several dozen voters across the state. While many were generally upbeat about the elections, others reported problems ranging from confused poll workers to inaccurate voter lists.
In a predominantly Somali precinct in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, two dueling groups accused each other of campaigning in the building and using translators to influence immigrant voters' decisions.
In Bloomington, voters reported that poll workers were mistakenly asking registered voters for photo ID.
In St. Paul a car crashed into a utility pole and caused a power outage that affected two polling precincts.
Some of the most serious reports came from people who say they had pre-registered to vote, but their names were not on the voter lists. One man from Bloomington told MPR News that he had even voted as recently as 2006.
Mike Dean heads Common Cause Minnesota, one of the partners involved with the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition. He says the coalition's hotline has received similar calls from voters who were told they weren't registered.
"This is a huge concern for us, why individuals were removed from the voter rolls over the last two years, apparently for no good reason," said Dean.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says while Tuesday wasn't perfect, it was a success.
Ritchie notes that Minnesota allows voters to register on Election Day, which provides a safety net for those voters whom otherwise could have been turned away.
Ritchie says most of the election-related complaints are handled by the counties or cities. Elections officials at those levels are responsible for training and hiring the election judges, setting up the booths, and maintaining their areas' voter-registration lists.
But he says his office has already turned over one major allegation to state and federal authorities.
"We had one serious complaint of the passing around a text message that said, 'Due to the long lines, Obama supporters will vote on Wednesday.' This is a classic deceptive practice that is used all over the country, all over the time. But this case it was used by text messaging," said Ritchie.
He says long lines formed at polling precincts where young people live, including the University of Minnesota campus.
But many polling places that were packed in the morning looked deserted by the 8 p.m. closing time.
Ritchie says ironically, strong turnout early in the day is what may have kept some people at home.
"They heard about long lines. They thought, 'Well, the state's already settled.' If I'm supporting John McCain, why bother, if I'm supporting Obama, why bother," said Ritchie.
But he says the showing was still positive, with tens of thousands of young voters lining up to cast their first ballots ever. People were courteous in line, some overjoyed to be part of a historic race.
And he says that's something Minnesotans should feel good about.
- Morning Edition, 11/05/2008, 7:50 a.m.