The recent column by the Rev. Dan Zielske about the upcoming elections caught my attention when he used the old phrase: “Vote early and often.” Now he used the phrase in a humorous fashion, but the phrase started me thinking “what is the state of our election process in Minnesota?”
As a former civics’ teacher and local government official I have a special interest in the topic. As a teacher I taught my students that fair elections are the foundation of a democracy. Citizens want to be sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote and that their own vote is not voided by someone ineligible to vote. In another words: make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.
What I found in doing a quick online search is that there is plenty of controversy and lawsuits flying around out there. For example, in Wisconsin there is a lawsuit requesting that the State remove over 230,000 ineligible names (data entry errors, old registration, change of address, death or felon status} from the voter rolls.
In Minnesota there is currently a lawsuit requesting that the legal limit for one individual to assist other voters in filling out their ballot be removed. Currently one person can help up to three people fill out their ballots.
Also, in Minnesota one registered voter in a precinct can vouch for eight other people to vote in that precinct. Some people feel this rule allows more people to vote and others feel it opens the system to fraud.
The newest election related practice in California is “Ballot Harvesting” were representatives of political parties collect Absentee and Mail In ballots directly from voters and deliver them to the polling places or election office.
The list of election issues today is varied and complex, such as identification, methods of voting, gerrymandering, felons and prisoners voting, illegal votes counting, security, etc. Too many topics to cover here.
Accusations have been made against both major political parties about tipping the election process in their favor. More the reason to develop more creditable voting systems.
A positive feature of the Minnesota voting system is the use of paper ballots with electronic counting. This allows for speedy counting and a paper trail if there is a question on the count.
Another positive point is that Rice County works well with local units of government in the county in coordinating what is for all parties a challenging election situation. All these local governments have conscientious people, staff and election judges, who work hard to get it right.
With hundreds of thousands of people registering to vote in Minnesota on election day (353,000 in 2016) it is important to have in place a system that is efficient and fair. Election integrity is the key perception people require in accepting the outcome of an election.
The Minnesota case most often cited on how only a few votes can affect an election is the 2008 election between Al Franken and Norm Coleman for US Senator. Franken won by 225 votes out of 2.9 million votes cast.
With the current shut down of our society due to the C-19 virus, major questions arise on how to fairly administer elections that are not in person, if that is needed. There are new and existing ways to do so, but they can be problematic for quality control of the election process.
It is the responsibility of the Governor, the Legislature and the major political parties to update our election system and remove any suspicion of game playing with the process, even if it is legal game playing. After all Minnesota leads the country in voter participation, let’s make sure it is the fairest system as well.