Civic beat // City Clerk apologizes for voting issues

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December 17, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

A historically high voter turnout and large number of unregistered voters are primarily to blame for long lines at many Minneapolis polling places, according to City Clerk Casey Carl. 

Carl, on Dec. 3, gave the city’s Elections Committee a report on the 2012 election in Minneapolis. He apologized to voters who waited in long lines or dealt with other problems at about 25 percent of city polling locations. 

“I can only offer my most sincere and most genuine apology,” Carl said before offering several recommendations to improve voting. 

Voter turnout in Minneapolis reached 81 percent in 2012, according to Carl’s report. That is the highest turnout in Minneapolis in at least 40 years. Since 1972, voter turnout in Minneapolis has been in the range of 68 percent to 74 percent. Turnout was 72 percent in 2008. 

Making matters more difficult, Carl said, was that 50,000 Minneapolis voters, or about 23 percent of the 216,000 people who cast ballots, were not registered to vote before arriving at the polls. Registering voters at the polls slows the process down dramatically, Carl told the committee. 

“That impact can not be overstated,” Carl said. 

To deal with the problems, Carl proposed a number of changes at the city and state level.

He said the city should improve outreach to get more people to pre-register, so as to avoid registrations at the polls. 

Carl also proposed easier early voting in Minnesota. The Minnesota Legislature would have to make that change. Residents in Minnesota can vote early, but they need to identify an approved reason for early voting. Other states allow people to cast absentee ballots without a reason. 

“The goal of early voting is to provide a voter convenience along with overall relief in polling place congestion on Election Day,” Carl wrote in his report. 

Another idea, Carl said, is to set up “vote centers” on Election Day where people can vote regardless of their precinct. That would make voting more convenient, Carl said. Nine states use vote centers.

The city should also partner with Hennepin County to purchase new voting equipment, Carl said. The current equipment is 13 years old. 

Council members on the Elections Committee were warm to Carl’s recommendations and directed staff to look into changes. 

Some council members asked for more polling places. For instance, Meg Tuthill (Ward 10) said some polling places in her ward just aren’t big enough to handle the number of voters. The Southwest Journal noticed extremely long lines at the VFW on Lyndale Avenue South and at Painter Park. 

The Elections Committee, at the request of Sandy Colvin Roy (Ward 12), added a staff direction to look for more polling places in some precincts, or even more precincts in each ward. 

Park Board considers 3 percent tax hike 

Minneapolis Park Board commissioners on Dec. 12 were scheduled to adopt a 2013 budget that raised the Park Board’s property tax levy by 3 percent in order to maintain recreation center hours and plant more trees, among other spending initiatives. 

In a straw poll of the nine Park Board commissioners on Nov. 28, seven commissioners said they were prepared to approve a 3 percent tax levy increase. A 3 percent hike represents the maximum levy increase allowed by the Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation. 

“The fact of the matter is, I am looking at a list of things we need to have,” Commissioner Liz Wielinski said of the additional spending. “We need to have this to keep the park system running for the next couple years.”

By raising taxes by 3 percent, the Park Board will have an additional $1.4 million to spend in 2013 compared to 2012. 

That additional tax money, according to a resolution, would keep recreation centers open the same hours as last year. The Park Board had considered a proposal to save $88,000 by halving the hours at six recreation centers, including Audubon Park.

“I didn’t run for Park Board to preside over the closing of rec centers,” said Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6). 

The resolution would also increase tree planting from 1,500 trees in 2013 to 5,000 trees. Park Board staff says in order to maintain the city’s tree canopy, 4,500 trees must be planted each year. The added 3,500 tree plantings will cost $343,000. 

Also included in the tax levy hike proposal is $300,000 for parkway paving and lighting;  $300,000 for neighborhood park improvements; $150,000 for added staffing for the Night Owls program that hosts kids on weekend evenings; and $177,000 for aquatic invasive species prevention. 

A proposal to add a $10 per team participation fee for youth sports leagues was nixed under the proposal. 

Anita Tabb (District 4) and Bob Fine (at-large) were the only commissioners who said they wouldn’t support a 3 percent increase. 

“There’s nothing in there that is not a worthy program,” Tabb said. “But I personally get feedback from people on a not irregular, unusual basis, where people think we’re a little out of whack with close-by, inner-ring suburbs.”

Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said a 3 percent tax increase by the Park Board would equate to a $7 tax increase for the owner of a $200,000 home that maintained its value from 2012 to 2013.