Apprehension was high in the lead-up to the Nov. 8 election, as rumors circulated on social media about potential issues with the integrity of the vote. Some state-level candidates even raised concerns without any evidence to back them up.
However, the city official responsible for overseeing Eden Prairie’s election was determined to ensure a smooth, secure and controversy-free process. With the results officially finalized on Nov. 15, that’s just what happened.
During a recent interview, Eden Prairie City Clerk Nicole Tingley reported that 42,953 ballots were cast in the city, which was 72% of Eden Prairie’s eligible voter population.
Rich Weaver, a longtime volunteer staffing precinct polls, said of Eden Prairie’s voting operations, “It’s quite a system. I’m more impressed each time with the safety and reliability of our elections.”
Others who closely followed the Nov. 8 election shared this view.
Although the 2022 election was Tingley’s first as city clerk for Eden Prairie, she had previously overseen elections as city clerk in 2018 and 2020 for the cities of Maple Plain and Columbia Heights, respectively.
Originally from Roseville, Nicole got her first taste in public administration as an intern in 2014. She entered the field professionally in 2017 after receiving a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Illinois University.
As she reflected on her experience managing the election in Eden Prairie, Tingley noted a few unexpected challenges, such as needing more than 300 volunteers to staff the precinct polls. She was pleasantly surprised by the high interest in volunteering, with more people expressing a willingness to help than there were positions available.
“The 2020 elections spurred a lot of interest as well as skepticism from the public in the elections process, and being an election judge is a great way to learn about and participate in it,” Tingley said. “We received over 200 new election judge applications, and we closed our application on May 1. I received many more inquiries about serving after we closed our application, so the number of new people that were interested in serving as an election judge is even higher than the number of applications we received.”
Based on the many national media reports, there was also concern that partisan poll-watching would become an issue locally. Tingley pointed out that, thanks to state law, such a possibility was well controlled.
“In Minnesota, a challenger (of another voter’s eligibility) has a very specific role,” she explained. “The only action that a challenger may take is to challenge a voter’s eligibility based on personal knowledge of ineligibility. This, combined with restrictions on conduct such as not being allowed to speak to voters, handle or inspect voter records, or be within six feet of a ballot counter, reduces the likelihood of disruption by a challenger. For clarification for your readers, a challenger is not a poll watcher. Minnesota law does not authorize poll watchers.”
Another surprise Tingley mentioned was the level of absentee ballots cast among Eden Prairie residents in 2022 vs. 2020. In Eden Prairie, absentee ballots in 2022 were 35% of total ballots cast, compared to 2020, when they were 70%.
“This is not what I expected,” she said. “In Eden Prairie in 2018, which was the last non-presidential election, 32% of ballots cast were absentee (including in-person absentee and mail absentee), and in 2020, more people became aware and utilized absentee voting for the first time, so I thought the percentage for 2022 for absentee voting would be more than a 3% increase from 2018.
“I certainly did not think we would be at the 2020 percentage for absentee voting, but more people returned to voting at their polling places on election day than I anticipated.”
Tingley is already looking ahead to 2024.
One of her priorities for the 2024 election is to encourage more election judges to serve a full shift rather than just half a shift. Another priority is to resume recruiting student election judges, a practice that had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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