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No Tech Glitches in Hennepin County, Minn.'s Record-Setting 2016 Election

The county was one of only two in the state to ditch paper rosters for e-poll books, and the elections manager said there were no major issues with the 1,100 devices.

(TNS) -- Election 2016 is barely in the books, and Ginny Gelms is already preparing for the next one.

Gelms, who manages Hennepin County’s elections, is planning for local elections next year and the 2020 presidential contest, getting nary a break after this year’s record-setting election.

Hennepin County, with more registered voters than any other county in Minnesota, had a record number of absentee ballots and preregistered voters this year.

The county also saw a slight uptick in turnout, with 685,000 people voting -- the most in county history.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Gelms said. “I’m proud of our county.”

The presidential election brought with it new technology, with the county introducing electronic poll books to check in voters in all suburbs. The county was one of only two in the state to ditch paper rosters for e-poll books; Gelms said there were no major issues with the 1,100 devices.

She’s now starting to roll out 700 devices in Minneapolis for the 2017 election, testing the devices and training staffers.

“They worked really well. … It made the experience of checking in voters much easier,” she said.

County commissioners had raised questions about the possibility of hacking, especially with the new e-poll books. The county had the U.S. Department of Homeland Security scan the county’s networks, and no evidence of hacking was found, Gelms said.

This was the first presidential election in which voters could preregister online, which made the process easier, she said.

Besides Gelms and seven full-time elections staffers, the office added its highest number of temporary workers -- 80 people -- as well as recruited other county staffers and University of Minnesota students to process ballots. The office took over an entire floor of a county building to sort ballots, with 150 people working each day.

Thirty percent of the ballots cast in Hennepin County were absentee this year, the first presidential election in which Minnesotans could cast absentee ballots without needing to cite a specific reason for not going to the polls. More people cast absentee ballots in person instead of mailing them in, Gelms said, with some voters waiting in line for up to two hours -- longer than if they had gone on Election Day.

That’s why the county also plans to provide more staffing earlier in the election season to better handle the large number of absentee voters.

“People want to choose when they vote,” she said. “I think this trend will continue … and it could get even bigger.”

While the county ended up with 74.3 percent voter turnout among voter-age residents -- the same percentage as turned out in 2012 -- the number of preregistered voters and Election Day voters reached 82 percent turnout. The 685,000 voters recorded this year tops 2012’s 682,000 voters.

“It went really smoothly,” Gelms said of the process.

Now, after a week of vacation, she’s back to preparing for legislative changes, the 2017 election and a possible special election if U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison wins the chairman job at the Democratic National Committee and leaves his House seat.

Some final numbers:

• 759,000 voters preregistered, breaking 2008’s mark of nearly 723,000 preregistered voters.

• 203,402 absentee ballots accepted, surpassing 2008’s record of 85,000 ballots.

• 1 recount that took 10 hours on Nov. 19 for state Senate District 44. It confirmed Republican Paul Anderson’s victory over DFL candidate Deb Calvert by 201 votes out of more than 53,000 votes.

©2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.