As of Tuesday night, Hennepin County officials had yet to recount ballots from Minneapolis’ Precinct 1, Ward 3. But when they do, there likely won’t be as many ballots to count as there were voters who tried to cast them. Residents of a student cooperative high rise called The Chateau, which towers over the Dinkytown neighborhood at the edge of the University of Minnesota campus, weren’t able to register at their polling place this year like they did in past elections.
The problem: Election officials would not accept the same kind of proof of residency they had in the past — a letter from building management that explains Chateau residents pay for their heat and electricity as part of their rent and therefore don’t have individual utility bills. A revised letter prepared quickly after the Chateau’s office opened at 10 a.m. didn’t pass muster either. A call to the national Election Protection hotline got the Minnesota Secretary State’s office and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office involved. Finally, at 4 p.m., after much back and forth, the Chateau office got word that within the hour election officials would accept a third version of the letter that mimicked an invoice.
But by then, some of the Chateau’s 290 residents were turned away from the polls with a letter in hand that had always worked in past years — and some weren’t able to return to vote in the final three hours the polling place was open.
How many voters might’ve been turned away is unclear. Kristina Bjornson, the Chateau staff member who revised the letters on the fly, said about a quarter of residents are international students who are ineligible to vote, and of the others — likewise, all students — some probably pre-registered, voted absentee or were already on the voter rolls from past elections. With the statewide recount underway in the U.S. Senate race continuing to show a gap of fewer than 200 votes between leading candidates Al Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman, every vote counts.
But the transient student population in the building includes many first-time voters or recently moved-in residents who rely on Minnesota’s same-day voting registration to exercise their franchise. One was Jill Stein, who spoke with Minnesota Independent reporters recently about her experiences on Election Day. Stein returned twice to the polling place in the morning before giving up and arranging a ride from her parents so she could cast a ballot at their home polling place in Robbinsdale.