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Voter ID is not the only troublesome issue in Kiffmeyer bill, election groups say

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer

When the House Government Operations and Election Committee convenes once more Tuesday morning to tackle the controversial Voter ID issue, there will be another problematic matter on the agenda.

It’s called the “electronic roster” provision in House File 210, sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, the former Republican secretary of state, but it is also known as the electronic “pollbook.” by many election administration insiders.

In Kiffmeyer’s view, the roster provision is an “improvement” that is supposed to reduce alleged voter fraud in Minnesota and that’s supposed to “modernize” the election process and, ultimately, over time, reduce the cost of election administration.

But Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky, representing elections officers throughout the state, will speak against Kiffmeyer’s electronic roster provisions at Tuesday’s hearing.  Representatives of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, a nonpartisan elections organization, sent a letter to the committee Monday detailing problems with the proposed technology provisions for elections. [PDF]

Professor Max Hailperin, of Gustavus Adolphus College — who has examined the new technologies in voting nationwide and is working with CEIMN — wrote in the letter that the online election roster is “an unwise idea at a fundamental level.”

“We support the idea of making election administration easier and more efficient,” said CEIMN’s executive director, Mark Halvorson. “But we are troubled with and opposed to these [electronic roster] provisions.” He’s calling for a “blue ribbon panel” to vet the election pollbook issue because, as Hailperin said in an interview, “This introduces more ways for things to go wrong.”

Adding technology to Election Day requires a balancing act, Hailperin said: “The trick is to do it in a way that makes the costs and the risks proportionate to what can be achieved.”

Proposed voting procedure overhaul

Now, you walk into your polling place, you sign the poll book, or roster, you get a tiny paper receipt, you hand it to another election judge, who gives you your ballot, and you vote.

If you’re not registered, you show an ID and register on paper and can vote.

Under the Kiffmeyer proposal, precincts with 100 or more voters would be required to have high-speed Internet connections linking each precinct with the secretary of state’s State Voter Registration System database on Election Day. Presumably, more than 3,000 or so precincts would then be linked together in one giant network on Election Day.

The problem that Kiffmeyer and HF 210 supporters are seeking to solve is alleged voter fraud in Minnesota. But election officials statewide say voter fraud is not a problem; CEIMN surveyed county attorneys (PDF) on felon voting and found a total of 26 fraudulent voters and 12 who broke the law on registering in Minnesota during the 2008 election; all of them were felons who weren't allowed to vote.

There is concern of double voting, too — that is, situations in which Joe Smith would vote in one precinct at 8 a.m. and then register anew in another precinct at 2 p.m. and vote again. Of course, doing such a thing is a felony. And there is no evidence of massive double voting in the state in 2008 or 2010.

The other concern: that the number of voters who come into a polling place doesn’t add up to the number of votes. Making those two numbers agree is a process called “reconciliation,” and it became an  issue raised by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer during the 2010 recount  in an election eventually won by Mark Dayton.

The assertion: Sometimes there are more votes than voters.

But there is nary a problem with reconciliation now, said three county election officials we talked with today. Blue Earth County Elections Director Patty O’Connor said she had “less than a handful” of non-matches, and it was actually more voters than votes. That is, through jammed machines or other quirks, a vote here or there wasn’t tallied. But Kiffmeyer’s bill wouldn’t solve that.

Feasibility and security concerns raised

Some state election managers and the CEIMN experts wonder about the feasibility and security of a totally connected election network on Election Day with thousands of precincts, even more thousands of volunteers, and millions of voters.

“If the network goes down, which we have no control over, we’re screwed,” said Mansky.

Plus, most polling places are in churches or schools with limited broadband access.

Said O’Connor, the chair of the election committee of the Minnesota Association of County Auditors, Treasurers and Financial Officrs: “In outstate Minnesota, connectivity is a huge concern. I have town halls with one outlet.”

Mansky and other election officials are aware of a disastrous introduction of electronic voting systems in Colorado in 2006 that failed, causing long lines, mostly because of improper technological preparation.

A group called VotersUnited.org has detailed problems across the nation.

Generally, Mansky supports electronic devices in precincts to reduce paper documents. Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith and O’Connor support electronic poll books for same-day registration purposes. The three generally favor a system that is limited to data loaded on precinct-based laptops or iPads. The voter lists for that precinct would be on those specific machines, with absentee voters from that precinct updated on those particular machines.

But if there were a statewide network with thousands of elections judges having access to the total voter registration system on Election Day, “The potential for a larger-scale fraud would actually grow,” said Hailperin.

Worst case scenario: Some bad guys create technological chaos in targeted precincts; that is, the system goes down in all Republican precincts in Stearns County, or in all the DFL precincts in South Minneapolis. Officials scramble to get the system going. Voters grow frustrated. Turnout in targeted precincts is limited.

Technology snafus occur, as Kiffmeyer embarrassingly learned last week when she attempted to show a video about her electronic plans.

Here’s that video that she is expected to try once more to show Tuesday.

It was produced by a group called Minnesota Majority, a group with ties to the Minnesota North Star Tea Party Patriots.

Task force proposed

Then, there’s the cost: Election officials said a recent sale on equipment pegged the cost of each electronic poll book at more than $800 each. Depending on the precinct, there could be a need for two to six machines. Hennepin County has 425 precincts. Do the math. That would add up to $1 million for a system that might not improve much at a time when the state and counties are in financial stress.

Hennepin County’s Smith said she had done an analysis of savings from reduced paper versus the costs of implementing the technology: The payback might not come for five or six election cycles. “By then, I’m afraid it could be obsolete,” she said.

Under the Kiffmeyer bill, electronic rosters — and the advent of Voter IDs — would be effective for any election after June 2012.

But Tuesday morning at the House committee hearing, Mansky is going to suggest that the Legislature authorize a  task force to look at this issue in detail and come back in January 2013 with a proposal on how to implement electronic advancements.

With 2012 a presidential year and a redistricting year, Mansky said Kiffmeyer’s timeline is impractical.

“There is no way we can do this next year, not a chance,” Mansky said.

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Comments (22)

Thank you for posting this.

What is the funding for this high speed internet coming from?

I live in a rural township with more than 100 voters. The township has in the last few years added a well so we could have running water and indoor plumbing.

The building is used maybe 15 times a year for township meetings and voting.

For election cycles we would need to add internet connection with a monthly bill of at least $40?

We may or may not have access to fiber optics on that street. Satellite connection is miserable in bad weather and more costly.

We do not have generator backup but the voting process today has provisions for power outages. How would the verification link be handled if power was out?

Mohamed,
Our right to vote is integral to democracy and is as important as the right to free speech or right to bear arms. If you are going to add layers of bureaucracy against our rights, you better have very, very good reasons. The evidence provided does not even rise close to that level.

Would you agree that a university I.D. is good enough?

Let's call it the Hackers Opportunity Bill.

"Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, a nonpartisan elections organization"

Just because THEY say they are does not make it true.

The oppose this measure to verify eligi8bility of spurious grounds. They also DO NOT Support VOTER ID.

70% or more of the citizens of Minnesota DO support VOTER ID. And in Indiana where it was recently implemented voter participation increased.

They are a liberal group opposed to reasonable methods of ensuring election integrity. When a group puts something in their name and then fights against things that would enable it, it gives you a hint of their true agenda.

As noted when Rep. Kiffmeyer was Secretary of State and advocating similar changes in election law, I'm not at all certain why she and her cohorts are wasting their time and our money trying to fix a non-problem. Study after study has shown that issues of voter fraud in Minnesota are EXTREMELY rare. I know that Rep. Kiffmeyer is beholden to the Tea Party people that elected her, but there are far more important issues to deal with, like the 6 billion dollar budget shortfall, rather than wasting time trying to spend money to fix a problem that doesn't exist.

Thanks, Jay. Excellent roundup of all the issues, including several I never even thought about before. It sounds like a worse and worse idea every time I hear a new detail.

Guess that means we should put it to constitutional referendum and let everyone who hasn't read a thing about it vote on it.

Mohammed Ali Bin Shah, you must have missed the part where CEIMN explained their reasons for opposing a picture ID requirement.

Baselessly asserting that a measure is "reasonable" while ignoring that it is costly and pointless reveals your own ideological agenda. If you disagree with CEIMN's report and findings, why not address their evidence and arguments instead of rejecting their conclusion on an ad hominem basis?

Technology is a wonderful tool. With technology we can assure that every vote is legitimate and will count! Enhancing the election process with 21st century technology is important and necessary.

Those who would appose leapfrogging into the 21st century by using modern tools to better the election process are also probably more concerned with politics than voting.

A nice reminder as to the fallibility of large electronic systems comes from the strib, with this lead:

"Thousands of Wells Fargo & Co. customers were left angry and short of cash Monday after a majority of the bank's 12,000 ATMs nationwide crashed."

Yeah, lets make election night hinge on a complex electronic system. This bill is a solution that is in seach of a problem.

" there is no evidence of massive double voting in the state in 2008 or 2010."

How reassuring! No evidence! And it will stay that way, because the DFL is bound and determined to prevent election reforms that would allow such voter fraud to be identified.

Bonnie Lokenvitz, is there any cell phone provider that offers service that functions at your township polling location? Because if there is, all you need for temporary broadband is a smart phone with a data tether. The idea that every polling location would require an expensive annual cable, satellite or DSL plan is a nonsense objection by people who favor voter fraud.

We should add a finger print pad and retinal scan before anyone could vote. We could also put a tattoo on the right forearm that could be scanned before a voter is allowed to vote.

Whatever could go wrong??

Hmmm, a network dormant for a year or two at a time, near perfect usage required on one day out of that period, going into facilities with a wide variety of wiring, dusting off and connecting and fixing electronic equipment that hasn't been used in a while, generally older (less tech-savvy!?)judges who would be using the equipment, limited tech support, server issues, data-base issues, line issues, etc., etc..

Whatever could go wrong with technology...

A main point I neglected to include above is that the technology HAS to work on the day of the elections.

Printed voter rolls can be made days ahead of time and will always work on the day of election.

There is no evidence to support the idea that voter fraud of any kind is a problem in Minnesota. If the statistic is true that 70% of Minnesotans think voter ID is a good idea, it is only testament to how heavily the "conservatives" shape what we hear in our local radio and TV and read in our local papers and how no actual facts, figures and statistics, nor logical thinking based on such evidence is ever allowed in those places if they might bring reality to bear over and against the right wing "narrative."

As we can see in Florida's elections where large numbers of voters have been thrown off the electronic rolls because they had the same or similar names as convicted felons without any effort to establish which individual person out of the massive numbers of "John Smiths" was the ACTUAL felon - exactly the type of thing Ms. Kiffmeyer was proven likely to do when she occupied the Secretary of State's office in the past,...

this looks like a golden opportunity for the secretary of state's office to push a few buttons just as the polls open and thereby restrict voting in particular precincts and for entire classes of people, creating chaos on election day and pushing election outcomes in whatever direction they desire, all with very little recourse for those denied the right to vote and very little accountability for those manipulating the voter rolls.

It is not just a solution looking for a problem, it's a thinly-veiled effort to enable massive, or worse, more subtle voter suppression sufficient to guarantee a certain set of election results with just a few, impossible to trace, key strokes.

Finally, why are we considering spending so much money to address what has been proved to be a nonexistent problem when we're facing a $6.2 billion deficit?

I suspect our Republican friends really have no clue in the world how to fulfill that election promise to focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs," so they're trying to distract their base by seeking to pass every far out, right wing pipedreamed idea imaginable so none of us will notice that, even all their money isn't enough to buy a clue regarding job creation. (Because they'll reject anything that doesn't use state government to further enrich the already fabulously wealthy and they can't figure out a way to "create jobs" for regular people that would accomplish that goal).

Overall, I do believe we need to move forward and better utilize technology in voting. But Neal (#13) pretty much sums it up.

Anyone who has ever performed an online demonstration knows the foolishness of being 100% dependent on networks and other technology working correctly precisely when needed in an environment that is not 100% under your control. You generally only make that mistake once. You always have a backup plan.

The bill does specify that until a "secure" solution exists, a decentralized approach will be used. The reality is that we are a long, long, way from the secure, reliable, online solution. No SoS without a highly political agenda would be able to certify an online system for quite a while (except perhaps in large metro areas).

By the way, the bill specifies that costs for equipment are to be paid for by county or municipality. Can you spell "unfunded mandate"?

Joel (#11), have you checked the data coverage for cell providers in rural areas? Not very encouraging. And I don't want to outsource voting reliability to Sprint, ATT, or even Verizon. And secure? I don't think so.

With all due respect to those who volunteer their time (and a VERY long day) to serve as election judges, they are not tech savvy. You will need a trained, knowledgeable tech support type person in each and every voting location. Where will they come from and who will pay for them (not likely to find enough volunteers)?

This is somewhat analogous to requiring every stand at the state fair to accept only electronic payments during the 2 weeks they are open. And to do so with new, unproven, technology.

So let's address this issue like a business would:
a - is there a problem that needs to be solved
b - is there a reliable, feasible solution given the operating environment and what is the contingency plan
c - where has this solution been implemented before (in an analogous operating environment) or are we pioneers
d - does it make economic sense
e - can we leverage resources (i.e. multiple states) to reduce the cost to any one state

Joel- The national technical advisory board that publishes guidelines for voting systems has specified that any network connection from an electronic pollbook system shall be wired rather than wireless. Apparently the experts weren't convinced that wireless technology was ready to deliver the level of reliability and security that would be needed.

This is quite amusing. It's funny how some of us suddenly rediscover return on investment and fiscal responsibility when the proposal under consideration secures our election system. If only that were the case when considering all other legislation.

To argue that we ought not secure our election system because there is no evidence of voter fraud is like arguing you ought not lock your door at night because there is no evidence anyone has ever tried to enter unlawfully. It's called a precaution, and it's quite sensible. Like most security measures, the return on investment is peace of mind. You rarely know when your efforts to secure a system have deterred a crime.

The question ought not be whether there is evidence of massive voter fraud, especially since the current system makes it near impossible to detect if there were. The question is whether the current system is sufficiently secure to remove doubt over its integrity. We can't even detect the issues with the current system. If the technological problems feared above manifest in the new system, it will be quite obvious. I call that an improvement.

Oh, the lengths (and the money they are willing to spend so frivolously in such bad economic times) the conservatives/republicans will go to keep a few Democrats out of the voting places.
Just because a bunch of people think something is a good idea does not mean it is a good idea.
Let's keep on trusting our electorate the way we used to.

"The question ought not be whether there is evidence of massive voter fraud, especially since the current system makes it near impossible to detect if there were. The question is whether the current system is sufficiently secure to remove doubt over its integrity. We can't even detect the issues with the current system. "

A popular completely false belief.

Come on, MinnPost - where is the fairness in reporting? Where is the unbiased treatment of issues Joel Kramer himself promised me three years ago? Where is a fair article on the other side of this issue (or ANY issue on MinnPost, for that matter).

This entire article is based on the word of a partisan, liberal group. It takes about three minutes of investigation to find that out. Instead, it's dishonestly called "nonpartisan", like MinnPost readers are too stupid to see through it.

MinnPost is nothing but a liberal rag these days shilling for the DFL. It's completely dishonest and unreadable.

I don't think I'm being to bold in saying this proposal is a red herring. It represents another offensive in the class war. Republicans are attempting to limit participation of citizens in our government so they can control policy to amass more spoils for their benefactors, the rich. The purpose of our election system is to enable all eligible voters to cast their ballot. Our efforts should be directed toward evaluating the current capability of our system to accomplish its purpose. Since less than half of eligible voters typically vote, we should be finding ways to increase participation, not ways to restrict it.