A report released Monday said long lines at Minneapolis polling sites this November were caused mainly by high turnout and same day registrations.
However, ballot machine problems, even faulty ballpoint pens, also caused delays at some polling sites. The report makes more than 20 recommendations, many of which will require legislative action, to make voting more efficient in future elections.
Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl, presenting the report to the City Council, began by apologizing to voters who were inconvenienced by long lines. He said this year's city voter turnout of 81 percent was well above average for presidential elections and the highest turnout rate in nearly 40 years. More than 50,000 people registered at the polls, he said.
"That's 25 percent of the total Election Day turnout. That impact cannot be overstated," Carl said. "In fact, it's my opinion that this record number of Election Day registrations was the primary factor that led to long lines and wait times across the city."
Changes to ward precinct boundaries after the 2010 Census confused many voters and some went to the wrong polling site, Carl said. At three polling sites, ballot machines rejected ballots that contained slight printing imperfections. More than 5,500 ballots had to be counted by hand, delaying the final result of a school board race by several days.
Other problems meant all of the city's election results did not get published until well after midnight Election Night, Carl said. He said all absentee ballots had to be tallied before the city could publish the totals. However, the judges who count absentee ballots were busy handling some of the Election Day workload, Carl said.
"The use of those judges to back-fill others takes their attention away from processing absentee ballots. In a huge turnout like we had in 2012, this is a mistake," Carl said. "We know we need to have — in our lessons for the future — we need to have judges who are assigned only to do absentee balloting."
Some of the report's recommended improvements will require changes to state law. For example, the report recommends expanding early voting and creating vote centers, sometimes called "super precincts," where voters from different parts of the city can all vote under one roof. Carl said the city is also working with Hennepin County to purchase new voting machines and software. The current equipment is well past its prime, he said.
"We clearly, as a city, need to ramp up our resources when we know there will be a higher turnout," said City Councilmember Gary Schiff, who would like the city do a better job of budgeting for high turnout elections. "And we know presidential elections consistently report the highest turnouts. And so we can predict this. We shouldn't be unprepared."
The city is also asking for input from voters on improvements the city can make for the next election. Residents should call 311 with their suggestions.