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Minneapolis, planning for big Election Day turnout, beefs up precinct staffing

State law requires at least four judges, but the city plans to have seven at each of its 117 precincts.

Minneapolis election officials are planning on a voter turnout of 75 percent on Election Day, not quite the level of the 2012 presidential election. .
Photo by Karl Pearson-Cater

Minneapolis election officials are planning on a voter turnout of 75 percent on Election Day and are increasing the number of election judges in each of the city’s 117 precincts.

State law requires at least four judges, but the city plans to have seven — five process judges plus two “management” judges — to speed up the process and handle the more-complicated ranked-choice voting system.

“This is an improvement based on 2012,” said City Clerk Casey Carl of the record-setting 82 percent turnout in last year’s presidential election that created long lines and long waits at the polls.

“I feel very confident we’ll have more than enough judges deployed, resource materials and ballots, should we have any problems on Election Day,” said Carl. “This is a very, very high number for a municipal election.”

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Historically, turnout for a municipal election in Minneapolis runs 35 to 45 percent. The 2009 election set a record for low turnout with 20 percent.

This time, voters will use ranked-choice voting to elect a mayor, 13 City Council members, two members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and nine members of the Park and Recreation Board — three at large and one in each of six districts. They also will weigh in on two ballot questions dealing with changes in the city charter.   

The staffing increase “has less to do with 35 mayoral candidates and ranked-choice voting than it does with [the fact] that this is the next election after the 2012 experience,” said Carl who has, along with the elections staff, reorganized the duties of election judges. 

“There was no one in the polling place whose exclusive focus was management of the operations of the polling place and management of the line of voters coming in,” he said.

This year, head judges and assistant head judges will receive special management training and focus on the business of voting. In previous elections, those judges would do some management but also would fill in or back up the greeter, ballot and tabulator judges.

With six weeks remaining before Election Day, Minneapolis is 527 election judges short of the total 1,753 needed to fill all openings.

Still needed are head judges, assistant head judges and team election judges. Officials also are seeking language-support judges fluent in the Somali, Spanish and Hmong languages. Also needed are Republican-affiliated judges required for party balance.

“We have really re-doubled our efforts to get language-translation support judges, so we have the ability to serve voters with fluent-speaking judges,” said Carl. Language support judges move from one polling place to another and are not included in the staffing numbers of any precinct.

“We’ve already started training election judges and, of course, we’ll have as many training classes as we need,” said Carl, who expects the required training sessions to run until the week before the election.

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Voters entering a polling place will be asked three times if they are familiar with the ranked-choice ballot. The greeter judges will work the lines of voters asking if anyone needs instructions on the ballot format. That inquiry will be repeated by two other judges during the process.

Absentee voting begins this Friday, with more than 500 applications for absentee ballots already in hand.

City Hall also will be open on the two Saturdays before the election for voters to cast early ballots. State law requires only one Saturday voting session.

“People think they can’t claim one of the excuses to vote absentee, and I tell them I’m not the excuse police,” said Carl. “If you tell me you can’t be in your polling place on Election Day, that’s good enough for me. We’ll be here.”

Information about how to become an election judge is available here. That same site is expected to display the ranked-choice sample ballot later this week.