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Minneapolis planning ‘mock election’ voter-education program on ranked choice

Before Minneapolis voters go to the polls in November, they will have a chance to try out the new voting machines — and the ranked-choice ballot.

Minneapolis voters will have a chance to try out the city's new voting machines before November's election.
REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

Before Minneapolis voters go to the polls in November, they will have a chance to try out the new voting machines — and the ranked-choice ballot — in mock elections.

That’s part of a voter education program presented Wednesday to the City Council Elections Committee.

Then, on Election Night, voters might know some of the winners, in contrast to 2009, the first time ranked choice was used. That time, it took nearly three weeks for some winners to be determined.

Four years ago, all of the ballots had to be hand-counted, and the results of that count had to be hand-entered into the machines.  With the new voting machines, that process should be eliminated.

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“I’m looking at a hand-count as more of a contingency in case of a problem,” said Grace Wachlarowicz, director of elections. She thinks all of the ballots should be counted and winners announced within a few days, with some winners likely declared on Election Night.

In each race, a numerical “threshold” will be established. That threshold is the number of votes a candidate needs to make it mathematically impossible for anyone else to win. If a candidate reaches the threshold based on first-choice votes, that person could be declared the winner.

If no candidate reaches the threshold on the first count, second- and third-choice votes would be counted until a winner can be declared.

“We will be training our voters on the new equipment in the mock elections,” said Wachlarowicz, “It’s going to be very comprehensive for each voter.”

Work is about to begin to recruit election “ambassadors, “who will be spending time visiting neighborhood events and community meetings to explain the voting process and train voters.

The ambassadors will be recruited from community organizations and groups that already participate in voter education, such as the League of Women Voters, Fair Vote Minnesota, Common Cause and Minnesota Voice.

The voter education process also will use Facebook and Twitter to reach potential voters.  A website should be available by mid-July at

“Our core goal is to go out into the community and talk to people one on one,” said Wachlarowicz, “That is the best way to touch people.”

The projected turnout for this fall’s election is 60 percent of registered voters. That’s  based on previous participation rates of 47 percent in 1993 and 48 percent in 1997.

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One lesson learned from the 82 percent turnout in the 2012 presidential election was the need for increased management personnel at each polling place.

To that end, the head judge and assistant head judge at each polling place will concentrate on managing the process. Those judges will receive additional training.

Another change will be an increase in judges who speak Spanish, Hmong or Somali.

According to a study by the Minneapolis Public Schools, one in five city residents speak a language other than English in their homes. The language-specific judges will be assigned to areas where they are most likely to encounter those needing help.

At least five polling places will be moved to new locations.  In the 2nd Ward, one polling place will move from Coffman Union across the plaza to the Weisman Museum, and another will move from Seward Towers to Augsburg College.

In the 6th Ward, voters will move from Seward Square Apartments to Seward Towers.

There are also plans to move polling places in the 8th Ward and the 10th Ward, but those moves are still under discussion. Council members are also asking to consider moves in the 3rd and 12th Ward.

Council members from wards where locations are still undecided abstained from voting on the 2013 election plan.

The City Council is expected to approve the elections proposal Friday.