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Legislature might consider an ‘early voting’ system for Minnesota

early voting sign
REUTERS/Joshua Lott
Will Minnesotans join the early voters in Arizona and 31 other states?

It’s looking possible that early voting will rise from the ashes of the voting amendment in Minnesota.

On the surface, early voting, now allowed in 32 states, might seem to represent the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum from requiring all voters to have state-approved photo identification card. Early voting, after all, encourages participation. Critics said that the amendment’s photo ID requirement would suppress participation.

But the costly amendment fight did highlight the fact that there’s room for change in Minnesota voting laws. And there was an implied promise among foes of the amendment, which included Gov. Mark Dayton, that the voting amendment should be “sent back to the Legislature” for repair.

Start with this: With the DFL now back in the legislative majorities, voter ID as it was presented to — and rejected by — Minnesotans is dead.

Election changes need bipartisan support

Additionally, any changes in Minnesota election law put forward by the DFL will have to have some across-the-aisle support. At this point, such support seems unlikely.

Rep. Steve Simon
Rep. Steve Simon

“This is not the time to railroad through any sort of an agenda,” said Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park. “Gov. Dayton has made it clear that he expects election bills to have bipartisan support.”

But Simon, who for years has sat on elections committees in the House and who likely will have great influence on any elections laws debated in the upcoming session, does believe the time has come to look closely at bringing early voting to Minnesota.

That discussion will be spurred by complaints of long waits for voters at some precincts in this year’s election.

“There is no reason Minnesotans should have long waits to vote,” Simon said.

Early voting would seem to be the most obvious way to get around lines at polling places. Nationally, more than 30 million people voted before Election Day. In early-voting states, that allowed people to go to a polling place and cast their vote.

Most Minnesotans had only one option to voting on Nov. 6, the mail-in absentee ballot. Those voters had to say they would be out of their precinct on Election Day and therefore needed the absentee ballot.

“It’s a nod-and-a wink system,” Simon said, adding that he hopes that by the next election, Minnesota will at least offer voters a “no excuse” absentee ballot choice.

(It should be noted that in certain rural areas in Minnesota, all voting is done by mail to save small townships the costs of running a polling place and to save residents long drives. Additionally, Minnesota law does allow in-person absentee voting on the Saturday before Election Day.)

It’s unclear how open Republican legislators will be to changes in Minnesota voting. Given the defeat of the GOP-backed voting amendment, there may some reluctance to support the new majority on any voting changes.

If Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, is representative of her caucus, any election law changes could face tough sledding.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer was one of the most outspoken advocates for requiring photo ID for voting.

Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state, who was just elected to the Senate, was the main force behind the voting amendment. She’ll need a whole lot of convincing from DFLers before moving forward on anything like early voting.

For the moment, Kiffmeyer is trying to meet with either the governor or someone on his staff to see what “fixing” is needed on the ID provisions.

“I have a request in to meet with the governor,” Kiffmeyer said. “So far, I’m told he has no time. There was a time set up to meet with a deputy, but I couldn’t meet at that time. We’re still waiting for another meeting time.”

The between-the-lines message Kiffmeyer said she’s receiving from the governor is that the governor is interested “in fixing the amendment sometime in the next 30 years.”

Early voting, she said, is something that seems to be of greater interest to DFLers than to Republicans. But she pointed out that there is a problem with early voting that came up when she was secretary of state.

Sen. Paul Wellstone died after hundreds of Minnesotans had already mailed back their absentee ballots. At that time, Kiffmeyer said, DFLers wanted those votes to count for Wellstone’s fill-in, former Vice President Walter Mondale. That didn’t happen.

But early voting could present a similar problem.

“An early vote is an irreversible vote,” Kiffmeyer said. “You can’t change your vote.”

Kiffmeyer also said that she — and other Republicans — also would raise many questions about costs associated with early voting.

Sen. Ray Vandeveer
Sen. Ray Vandeveer

“The governor made frequent statements about voter ID being too expensive,” Kiffmeyer said. “He may rue using those words. Those words may come back to him [if early voting becomes a hot topic].”

 There may not be much enthusiasm among other Senate Republicans, either.

“We wanted a [voter ID] bill, not an amendment,” said Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake. “But we couldn’t get any cooperation.”

Vandeveer, who retired in the wake of redistricting, was chairman of the elections committee last session.

“I’m in no position to pre-judge anything,” Vandeveer said, “but I think the main concern [among Republicans] is who’s voting.”

'Integrity' concerns could be addressed

Simon said that perhaps some of the GOP concerns about voter “integrity” can be addressed.

“Once we know committee rosters, we might learn more about what [voter] integrity issues might come forward,” Simon said.

He believes there should be at least some steps in voting changes that can be made on a bipartisan basis.

Meantime, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who has seemed supportive of early voting in the past, is putting together a “package” of recommendations he’ll present to the Legislature, likely after Thanksgiving.

One of the major objections from Ritchie — and others who opposed the voting amendment — was that it placed today’s voting procedures in a permanent way into the Minnesota Constitution. Ritchie, and others, argued that given rapid changes in technology, it’s safe to assume that in the near future, technology will change the way people vote.

Expect Ritchie and others to present ideas on such things as electronic poll books. Using that system, poll judges would have laptop computers containing identification photos of eligible voters. A voter would go to the judge, give his or her name and up would pop a voter.

Eligible voters who weren’t in the system would have their picture taken on the scene and be allowed to vote.

The electronic pollbook idea was presented to the GOP majority last session, as DFLers tried to prevent the ID amendment from going to the ballot.

When they were in the majority, Republicans weren’t interested. It remains to be seen if their interest level has changed.

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Comments (22)

Confused

(1) why would the DFL need any GOP support, other than the DFL being insecure in their beliefs, which is completely believable

(2) Mary "Vote Fraud" Kiffmeyer: "“An early vote is an irreversible vote,” Kiffmeyer said. “You can’t change your vote.”

Uhh...you can't EVER change your vote. Once it's in the machine, it's DONE. Furthermore, should her opinion be even acknowledged? She's built an entire career out of making it harder to vote.

Agree

The DFL will not be in control forever, so let's have early voting and not having the possibility of having long lines with people waiting over eight hours to vote, as has occurred in other states. We are one state that still resembles democracy. Let's keep it that way.

Answers

1. Election reforms should have bi-partisan support. Just because the Minnesota Republicans broke this sensible rule, it does not invalidate the concept of fairness.

2. Absentee ballots may be processed early, but they are not put through the ballot counter until election day. In 2002, there would have been time for many absentee voters to change their vote, but they were not allowed to.

Bi-partisanship

The governor said he couldn't support any measure that didn't have bi-partisan support, so to be consistent, he shouldn't support anything that doesn't have any GOP backing. I happen to agree with him and I also think electronic poll books would be a real nice feature. It probably should ease the concern of the "Photo ID" group (ie Republicans), but it probably won't.

Early voting is popular in the states where it is allowed. I think it would be a good thing for Minnesota, too. Changes can and should be made to make it easier and more convenient to vote, but apparently the GOP wants to make it as difficult as possible. I don't think it is any coincidence that the longest lines and the most hassles were in states controlled by Republicans.

Sen. Wellstone's death,

Arne Carlson's initial election (Google it if you don't recognize the name "Jon Grunseth") and many other electoral incidents all argue against both early voting and relaxed absentee voting.

Long lines at the poll are not necessarily a bad thing. In any event, there are many ways to address them, including encouraging voters to exercise their right to take time off work to vote.

Really

I'm sure that wouldn't disproportionately affect the middle and lower class hourly wage earner at all. Seriously, if we want people to vote, which is what everyone says (whether they mean it is another matter) one of three things need to happen. 1. The election timeframe is extended, ie election week 2. The election is either moved to a weekend, or election day is declared a national holiday. 3.Voting is made mandatory ie. Australia, with penalties imposed for noncompliance. The first two are relatively simple , the third not so much. None will ever occur due to the vested interests of some in suppressing the vote of a certain segment of the population.

How is this enforced?

I don't know the answer right off the top of my head and hope someone will. But how is the "right to take time off work to vote" enforced? What are the penalties on an employer who does not grant this, and how is it reported/enforced?

And is this right specific to Minnesota? I know in the days leading up to the election I heard more than once on national coverage (in other states) voters talking about how they needed early voting and weekend hours because they'd lose their jobs if they spent several hours in line and were therefore late to work on election day.

Anyone know this information right offhand?

Time to catch up!

Frankly, I am really surprised Minnesota hasn't already adopted early voting. In North Carolina, we enjoy two weeks of early voting. This year, I was able to stop by a local polling office on the Thursday prior to Election Day. No line, no fuss.

I can't think of any reasonable and logical reason for not offering early voting.

This should not be so difficult

I've been an election judge for many years. Remember that most judges are older volunteers who only do this every two to four years, so each election has a learning curve. Long lines are a process management issue. With better polling sites, increased staffing, and more resources, lines can be reduced. But there is a significant cost to those kinds of changes that too many Minnesotans do not want to pay.

The early voting issue for a death or a Grunseth-like withdrawal could easily be resolved by legislation which stated that in those cases, early votes are tallied with the party's replacement candidate. By voting early you would be agreeing to this, or go ahead and wait till election day.

Really, most of the "problems" with elections could be resolved if legislators were trying to resolve problems rather than game the system in favor of their candidates. I agree with Governor Dayton that any changes should be bipartisan, but looking at recent performance, that doesn't seem possible. Remember when there was bipartisan agreement on a common sense bill that would have helped with the felon voting issue? Governor Pawlenty vetoed it. I guess there was more political capitol in using such problems to sustain the fear and the myth of voter fraud rather than solving anything.

Oregon and Washington's vote by mail

systems are where all this should be going. Participation in those states is very high, and there have been few problems after quite a number of years. Far fewer problems, I would note, than in live polling places in states like Florida or Ohio.

Failing that, no-excuse absentee PLUS early voting are absolute necessities. Minnesota is incredibly backward on this stuff. Unfortunately, I have found since moving here seven years ago that many Minnesotans are simply unaware that other states do this better. Folks here need to get out more. Back where I came from, I voted absentee every year for many years so I wouldn't have to miss work.

Any politician who objects to making it easier for people to vote is admitting their party is no longer interested in persuading new voters. We're talking about the basic premise of democracy here. Either get with the program or go home.

we may be backward but...

,,,Minnesota consistently has higher voter turnout than ANY other state, including those vote by mail.

Again with the Mail-in bragging?

Clearly these mail-in ballot states have a inferiority complex of some kind. Why would we want to switch to a system that delivers lower voter turnout? I've been to Oregon and Washington. Our bike trail system is far superior and I'm pretty sure it's because we take time off from work to vote. Portland doesn't even have a Nice Ride system up and running yet, how backwards is that?

See, this how the Democrats fall apart.

We have two really good proposals that have already been put on the table. 1) Electronic poll books that incorporate but don't require photos. 2) The 2008 or 9 Motor Voter legislation that created a comprehensive system for verifying registrations and sharing voter data across multiple databases. This 2008 law would have prevented all the felon votes by ensuring that felons would be flagged and challenged at the poll on election day. This law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support ( I think there were only 6 votes against it in the house for instance) at the time but was vetoed by Pawlenty.

Now the Democrats are in power, and instead of simply re-passing successful uncontroversial legislation (with our without Republican votes) they want to introduce a completely new system that creates debate. This is just plain stupid. You have to think strategically.

1) Don't put a completely new plan on the table. Just re-pass the great plan that already passed, and ram it through if you have to. Let the Republicans explain how Motor Voter got to be such a bad idea since the last time they all voted for it.

2) Create the electronic registration system and DON'T tell people it's going to be cheap. Just pay for it. The reason Kiffmeyer got tripped up over cost is she lied and told everyone voter ID was going to be cheap. Don't repeat her mistake. Spend the money, isn't our democracy worth it? When Republicans try to claim it's too expensive don't argue with them about much it's going to cost, just argue that it's worth it.

Don't give Republicans a de facto filibuster by requiring their votes, that's a recipe for gridlock and that's NOT why people voted Democrats into power. Take this ID crap off the table permanently by neutralizing it better election system that doesn't require photo ID and reduces what little fraud we have by 80%. DON'T create new debate over a completely new proposal. I'm not saying early voting should never be examined or passed, but build on success. Motor Voter and electronic poll books strengthen the existing system without the controversy, and I would argue they actually do more for our election system than early voting anyways.

Better still, declare

Better still, declare Election Day a national voting day. Let's make voting a fully accessible right for everyone, every election.

Felon voting was recognized by both sides

This ensures that nothing will be done about it by either the Secretary of State's office or the Legislature.

Would electronic Poll Books allow voting in any precinct?

I assume electronic Poll Books would be connected to a centralized system. Could they allow people to vote at a precinct other than their home precinct in order to avoid long lines? As soon as someone had signed in the poll book, it would be registered centrally, and reflected in all locations.

The immediate problem

that comes to mind is that the paper ballot in each precinct is often specific to that precinct for local elections, such as city council, school board, etc.

Good question Janne

I don't think so, it wouldn't change the way votes are tallied, it would just make the registration and verification process more efficient and reliable. right now the votes are tallied in every precinct for that precinct, and it kinda has to be that way. However, in theory I see where you're going, and it should be possible to build off of the system and do what you suggest. There would be serious questions however that would have to be addressed.

Photo ID

If you notice the drivers license in Kiffmeyers hand, is the current MN DL. It was created under the federal Real ID Act of 2005. Give any forger a personal computer, 6 minutes, a digital photo and a laminating machine and it can be forged. There is new technology on the horizon which will supersede a photo ID and be nearly impossible to forge, but that is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is figuring out a way to make it easy for everyone, regardless of the there situation, to register to vote.

We already solved the felon vote problem

Tom, we already solved the felon vote problem, a law passed by overwhelming bi-partisan majority back in 2008 would have virtually eliminated it. Pawlenty vetoed it because it didn't disenfranchise democratic voters the way photo ID promised to. That's not what Pawlenty said, but that veto put voter ID on table. That law could be repassed and signed by Dayton.

Kenneth is right, no reliable election system can be built around IDs alone. Experience in all the other states who have tried it has been dismal. Yeah, 40 states have passed voter ID laws and provisional ballot in the last 8 years... let's see how long this lasts. Judging from the results in Florida and Ohio this initiatives may well end in repeal over the next 8 years.

Ms Kiffmeyer's comments

sure give the impression that she is on the sour grapes bandwagon. The last thing this State needs after the recent torrid election experience is another tea party- type distraction as we enter a new legislative season.
Kiffmeyer has 'been there' years ago, and should know better than to wine like a fledgling newcomer. Her comments makes one wonder if she is going to be an experienced positive contributing legislative member or a vengeful thorn in the side of progress.

Here are a couple other ideas to make it easier to vote

1. Move the election to a weekend. Either a 24-hour period from 2 PM Saturday to 2 PM Sunday, or a Saturday voting period and a Sunday voting period.

2. Opt-out motor voter. Instead of checking a box TO register, you would have to check a box NOT TO register.