Viewpoint: Don’t miss an opportunity for election reform in 2010Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie recently proposed some small—very small—changes to the ways elections are conducted in our state, through the promulgation of administrative rules.
By: Kent Kaiser, Guest Viewpoint author, Woodbury Bulletin
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie recently proposed some small—very small—changes to the ways elections are conducted in our state, through the promulgation of administrative rules.
It concerns me that the proposed rules contain so little substance and that they ignore so many of the problems with our state’s absentee ballot system that became evident in the 2008 U.S. Senate election recount.
It is alarming that the proposed rule changes address nothing on election judge training and otherwise mainly just tinker with what some of the election forms look like. It is disappointing that the proposed rules contain nothing on interpreting what constitutes an acceptable ballot, for example.
In total, the proposed rules make it appear like basically the only problem with the last election was that voters made mistakes. This completely ignores the issues of inconsistent election judge actions that disenfranchised or enfranchised people depending on where they lived. It ignores any effort to minimize local election official error through better training from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Indeed, there are several other measures that are needed to improve our state’s absentee voting system—measures whose need became glaringly apparent during the recount that took place after the 2008 U.S. Senate election. These include the following:
• Institute a centralized process for administering military absentee ballots. Military absentee ballots are an anomaly for many local election officials and present challenges that regular absentee ballots do not. Administering them requires some specialized knowledge. The process of administering them should be streamlined to serve military voters better. The secretary of state’s office is already equipped to do this.
• Institute systems of bar coding and central processing of absentee ballots. This would allow election administrators to track the timing of sending and receiving absentee ballots, to track acceptance and rejection of absentee ballots (including specific reasons for rejection, where applicable), to report absentee ballot statistics after each election, and to identify more readily where problems exist in the absentee ballot process.
Having county-level absentee ballot boards process absentee ballots would reduce variances and deviations that currently occur in the acceptance and rejection standards when administered by polling place workers who often have already worked long hours by the time, on election night, when they are looking at and processing absentee ballots for the first time.
• Institute and use systems to check for interstate double voting. Whereas double voting within the state can be detected easily and this fact is widely known because of a few cases that have been prosecuted in recent years, double voting across state lines goes unmonitored. This fact, too, is widely known.
I can remember while working at the University of Minnesota, Duluth in the early 1990s hearing students boasting about how they had voted both in Minnesota and in Wisconsin. They weren’t detected in the 1990s, and they probably wouldn’t be detected today. Double voting amounts to stealing another person’s vote, and the act is unconscionable. It is technologically possible, with Minnesota’s modern statewide voter registration system, to conduct efficient and relatively inexpensive checks for interstate double voting. This should be done after each election, with as many states as possible, but especially with our neighboring states.
These are just a few recommendations from a report on election reform entitled “No Longer a National Model: 15 Recommendations for Fixing Minnesota Election Law and Practice,” recently issued by the Minneapolis-based think tank Center of the American Experiment.
The full report, which includes election reform recommendations in the broad categories of general election operations, absentee voting, and recounts, is available at www.americanexperiment.org or by calling 612-338-3605.
The secretary of state’s proposed rules will be subject to a public hearing on December 18. Center of the American Experiment’s report will likely serve as the basis for some of the public comments offered to the Judge Manuel J. Cervantes, who will oversee the hearing.
Kent Kaiser, Ph.D., is a professor at Northwestern College in Roseville, Minnesota, and is a senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment. He previously served in the administrations of Minnesota Secretaries of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, and Mark Ritchie, a Democrat.