If the Twins were to win seven straight World Series Championships, there would be public celebrations, a media spectacle and sports historians would declare them the greatest baseball team ever. We would honor Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau with their own special holidays in Minnesota or even change the state license plate from “Land of 10,000 Lakes” to “Twins Country.” And why not? This would be an incredible feat.
While such an achievement would be hard to imagine, Minnesota is actually home to an equally impressive accomplishment. The U.S. Census declared that Minnesota once again led the nation in voter turnout, with 75 percent of the adult population voting in the 2008 election, for the seventh consecutive time.
Did I miss the celebrations, the parades, the politicians’ speeches?
Sadly, this major accomplishment was met with little fanfare or attention. No ticker-tape parade or front-page spread in the newspaper exclaimed the news. There was, however, one celebration of sorts: A group of 24 individuals from across the state took time out of their busy schedules to educate themselves about the Senate recount and Minnesota’s election system and identified ways to make a good process even better.
A very Minnesotan event
This type of independent review is a very Minnesotan way to recognize our top-notch election system. These 24 individuals of all political persuasions became a Citizen Jury, a project spearheaded by former state Sen. John Hottinger and sponsored by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Rep. Laura Brod.
After listening to the testimony of election administrators, officials from political parties and independent observers, the Citizen Jury declared that “there was public trust and confidence in the recount process.” In fact, they were just reaffirming what the Minnesota Supreme Court said a few weeks ago.
And the Citizen Jury went one step further — its members identified ways to improve the current election system. Specifically, they said that rules must be created to reduce the interference from political parties in the recount process after hearing testimony about how the state Supreme Court’s decision to allow political parties to challenge certain types of absentee ballots allowed election rules to be interpreted by partisans.
Pattern seen during recount
During the Senate recount there was a clear pattern of voters in Republican-leading areas being disproportionally challenged by the Franken campaign and voters in Democratic-leaning areas being disproportionally challenged the Coleman campaign. For example, in Scott County, of the 43 challenged absentee ballots, 38 (or 88 percent) were challenged by Franken’s camp. And, in St. Louis County, of 60 challenged absentee ballots, 58 (or 96 percent) were challenged by the Coleman campaign. Election rules should never be interpreted by partisans, only by nonpartisan election officials; this is part of what makes Minnesota’s election system so great. The Citizen Jury recognized this and encouraged changes to further safeguard our system from partisan pressure.
In addition, the Citizen Jury also supported many of the reforms that Common Cause and other groups were advancing at the state Capitol this past legislative session — streamlining the absentee ballot process, early voting, and moving up the state primary — reforms that will only lead to greater voter participation, securing Minnesota’s spot in leading the nation in voter turnout.
The Citizen Jury spent the time to truly understand the issues and put partisan hats aside to think about how we can improve Minnesota’s voting system. As Brod said, “When citizens engage in a meaningful way, we win, our system wins, and overall we get better results due to the varied perspectives being at the table together to move an idea forward.”
Let’s hope that this report from the Citizen Jury is the impetus legislators need to find common ground on these very important election issues. Common Cause invites legislators to come together before the legislative session to develop a consensus bill that builds on the recommendations of the Citizen Jury. With an even more open and inclusive voting system, Minnesota is sure to lead the nation for an eighth consecutive year. I’ll see you at the celebration!
Mike Dean is the executive director of Common Cause Minnesota.