Hennepin County glitch was main polling issueby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota elections officials say voting generally went smoothly on Election Day Tuesday, but not so the count. After the polls closed, a significant discrepancy emerged with Hennepin County's vote totals. The problem delayed vote reporting as officials scrambled to figure out the problem.
The problem, according to Elections Director Rachel Smith, is that the county's votes were briefly tabulated more than once.
"It was not all night -- it was at one particular moment at night when we were doing our last update," said Smith.
She said the technical glitch threw the county's total off, but there was no reason to doubt the individual precinct vote totals.
"The information coming from the precinct was accurate, and information coming from the absentees was accurate -- so we knew that both of those sets of data were accurate," said Smith. "When we did the file transfer it added to, rather than replacing."
Smith said she's confident that Hennepin County's numbers are accurate. The county will audit all of its vote totals this week, which is standard.
At the very least, it made for a confusing night of poll watching.
The mistake doubled candidate vote tallies in the state's most populous county. The effect was to artificially inflate DFLer Mark Dayton's advantage over Republican Tom Emmer in the governor's race. When the correct numbers were posted on the Secretary of State's website a few hours later, Dayton saw his lead shrink by about 60,000 votes.
Before the polls closed, the day went by with few problems.
Big crowds were reported at some polling places during peak times. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, in general, the lines moved quickly and most reported issues were minor.
"Any efforts to intimidate seemed to not really work. Any efforts to kind of disrupt the elections seemed to have no impact," said Ritchie.
In the leadup to the elections, a coalition calling itself Election Integrity Watch encouraged voters to wear clothing with political messages and buttons reading "Please I.D. me."
The Election Integrity Watch coalition includes the North Star Tea Party Patriots, the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Minnesota Majority, and has been pushing to require photo identification at the polls.
A Minneapolis federal judge this week ruled against the group's request to allow the "Please I.D. Me" buttons and Tea Party clothing inside polling places, saying they were akin to political speech.
Minnesota Majority Executive Director Dan McGrath says he wore his "Please I.D. Me" button to cast his ballot in Minneapolis.
"I went in not knowing if I'm going to be charged with a petty misdemeanor for casting my vote and expressing my First Amendment right," said McGrath. "That is much heavier intimidation than somebody running a neighborhood watch program on their election cycle or election process."
The nonpartisan organization Election Protection also sent about 200 observers to metro and suburban polling places, and also staffed a voter hotline.
Michael Pignato said a handful of the several hundred calls the hotline received reported problems like voter intimidation.
"We had some isolated reports of potential intimidation or improper procedures, but they were very few given the number of other reports we received," he said.
The group fielded complaints about problems at a polling site near the University of Minnesota, misinforming voters about same-day registration rules. The hotline got questions about election procedures and locations.
The Republican Party complained about malfunctioning voting machines in Duluth, Olmsted County, Lakeville, Faribault, Mendota Heights and Eagan.
But elections officials said the complaints were mostly minor, and no more plentiful than in past elections.
- Morning Edition, 11/03/2010, 6:50 a.m.