Minneapolis election officials plan future improvementsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — Voters across Minnesota turned out in record numbers on Election Day.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, 76 percent of eligible voters, more than 2.9 million people, went to the polls. In Minneapolis, voters reported long lines and wait times of up to two and a half hours at some polling places. However, at some polls high turnout was not the cause of the delay.
About a dozen election judges sorted through stacks of ballots at the city of Minneapolis' elections warehouse on Wednesday. About 5,500 ballots have to be counted by hand because the electronic scanners could not tabulate them on election night.
The culprits, pointed out by Rachel Smith, director of Hennepin County Elections, are little white splotches on black rectangles that border each ballot.
"And so you'll see, they're quite tiny," Smith said. "That's why we think it's a combined issue of both ballot and machine because these are pretty small flecks."
Smith said the solid black rectangles help the ballot scanner tabulate the voters' choices. Older scanners often reject the ballot if the rectangles are altered, she said.
Problems with scanners caused delays at about a dozen precincts. Minneapolis city officials said.
But voters like Michelle Belmont say the long line at her polling place was the result of a disorganized elections staff. Belmont, who is nine months pregnant, said she waited more than an hour to vote.
"It felt like it was, they were expecting a small town kind of voting scheme there, where not many people were going to show up at one time and we had lots of time to process people with paper ballots," Belmont said. "But really no, you're in downtown Minneapolis. There are hordes of people who need to vote at different times of the day and you cannot be that slow."
Minneapolis City Councilmember Cam Gordon said he heard complaints about a couple of polling places in his ward where voters waited in lines for over an hour outside in the cold weather.
"One in particular that seemed to have problems, I think we were able to respond to and make some changes in it," Gordon said. "I heard complaints about it early in the day; went and looked at the long lines; talked to the clerk's office and elections and said, 'can we take a look at this?' They sent somebody out there."
Gordon said the elections staff helped re-route the line so more voters were able to wait inside the building. The wait time eventually dropped, he said.
Assistant City Clerk Grace Wachlarowicz said all polling places were adequately staffed and well-prepared for a high-turnout election. She said most of the long lines were caused by a greater number of same-day registrations. Many voters needed additional help because their ward or precinct boundaries had been changed after the 2010 redistricting, Wachlarowicz said.
"We did everything under our power to make sure that we had a voter-friendly, streamlined process," Wachlarowicz said. "But because of the complexity of these certain precincts, it got... challenging."
Gordon said he and other city leaders will soon get a post-election report from elections staff. He said he would especially like to see the county obtain new voting machines in time for next year's municipal races. County elections director Smith said the county is prepared to spend between $4 million and $5 million for the new machines.
- Morning Edition, 11/08/2012, 8:40 a.m.