Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Minnesota voting amendment would change much more than you might think

Mark Ritchie
Mark Ritchie

As secretary of state, I hear from many who question my assertion that the voting amendment on the ballot this fall will put an end to Minnesota’s law permitting the updating of voter registration and registering for the first time in the polling place on Election Day – a practice commonly called same-day registration. Since more than 500,000 citizens use this service in big election years, and more than half of all Minnesotans have used same-day registration at some point in their voting history, this obviously would be a major change that goes far beyond the question of presenting an ID to vote.

Of course, eligible Minnesota voters can register any time, day or night, including Christmas, New Year’s and Election Day. Mailing in a voter registration can be done at any time, and in a few places this can be done over the Internet.

The proposed election-related amendment would not stop anyone from registering to vote on Election Day (or Christmas) but it would stop voters from being able to cast their ballots and have them counted on Election Day as they have been allowed to do since the early 1970s. Here is the specific change to Minnesota’s election law that is proposed for our Constitution:

All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.”

So what would this change in our constitution mean to the more than 500,000 Minnesotans who normally use same-day registration before voting on Election Day? Here’s how this would affect you as an individual voter:

Under current law you have to update your registration if you move, even across the hall in an apartment building, and if you have a change of name due to change in marital status other reason. Most Minnesotans choose to do this updating of their registration on Election Day in the polling place. You fill in the regular voter registration form and sign an oath that all of the information you are providing is accurate. Once you have completed this part of the process you receive your ballot, complete it in private, and then cast your ballot for inclusion with the Election Day tally of voters.

The morning after Election Day local and state officials begin the process of double-checking all of the new registrations, using nine different databases and information sources to confirm the information provided. If anything is not completely accurate, local officials and law enforcement flag the registration for further investigation. In addition we use a non-forwardable postcard to confirm residency. To do this process carefully and thoroughly takes several weeks.

Same-day eligibility verification is impossible

Under the proposed amendment, no voter registering in their polling place on Election Day could cast their ballot until election officials could double-check the accuracy of all of their information in the same comprehensive way that is used on all other voter registrations. Since it is not possible to mail out a non-forwardable postcard and have it be delivered or returned within the same day, this cannot be done. Equally important, many of the databases used by election officials are not public and can only be used by authorized individuals. Finally, the time it takes to check all of the mandated databases is significant and cannot be done while someone is standing in line.

For example, voter registration information is cross-checked with data from the Social Security Administration, the National Death Registry, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Department of Public Safety, Drivers and Vehicle Services, the United States Postal Services National Change of Address database, the Department of Corrections and the Minnesota Supreme Court Administration.

If it is not possible to check everything and to mail out the non-forwardable postcard, then the voter’s ballot cannot be cast or counted until they have met the proposed constitutional requirement that All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.”

Ballot would be provisional until hurdles are cleared

If a new voter registration form clears all hurdles and all provisional balloting paperwork is in order (from experience, 4 percent will have a fatal flaw in our paperwork) then your provisional ballot will be opened and put into the optical scanning ballot counter. If there is no problem with your ballot it will be counted by the machine. If there is a problem with your ballot – perhaps an over vote or stray mark – the machine may reject it and the provisional balloting board will need to determine your intent and then re-create your ballot.

The good news about this system is that voters who are just registering in their polling place do not have to go down to the county courthouse a second time to complete this process. It will happen automatically if everything is in order. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) also mandates the creation of a “provisional ballot tracking system” so that all of the half-million same-day registrants can track the progress of their provisional ballot. In addition to the mandates included in HAVA from which Minnesota would suddenly be no longer exempt, Minnesota would also be required to follow the National Voter Registration Act (often called “Motor Vote”) if it adopts provisional balloting. Thanks to former Rep. Tim Penny, Minnesota was exempted from many of these onerous federal laws – but these exemptions are endangered by the proposed amendment.

The problem with a ‘substantially equivalent’ standard

The application of a “substantially equivalent” standard to those voters not voting in person also raises concerns. We have nearly 250,000 military and civilian absentee voters, township mail-in voters and voters in nursing homes and other medical care facilities that are not voting in-person.

It is not clear how a soldier in Baghdad or Kuwait City might meet the same requirements for establishing their residency, eligibility or identity as someone walking into their polling place in St. Cloud. If they cannot meet the “substantially equivalent” standard as required by the proposed amendment they would find it difficult if not impossible to vote. This difficulty may explain why every other state in the nation that has proposed new voting regulations similar to those being considered in Minnesota have automatically exempted military and almost all absentee and other mail-in voters.

It is not possible to apply the same regulations on voters who are using the U.S. Postal Service to mail in their ballots from overseas or from their township in Kittson County. Repeated attempts by some lawmakers to add these normal exemptions (military and absentee voters, seniors in nursing homes, township voters, Amish, etc.) were rejected — and so we have a proposed amendment that would end mail-in voting by townships and create a nightmare for folks trying to find a notary public or some trusted government official to certify their identity, residency and eligibility in Baghdad.

Kittson County has estimated that it will cost them $250 per voter to replace their current system of all-mail-in voting with regular polling places in order to comply with this amendment. Ramsey County has detailed the impact of this proposed amendment on military voters, and a number of veterans’ groups have spoken out about the problems that can be created for active-duty military personnel if there is a requirement of equivalency in the regulation of in-person and absentee voting.

Strong support for our current system

Most Upper Midwestern states now use Election Day registration, as do a number of Western and New England states. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have been important partners in promoting Election Day registration over the years — along with Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Voters and local election officials like our system. It makes it possible for us to be ranked No. 1 in voter turnout in the nation year after year. It helps young people to get started voting and voters who are not as mobile as they used to be to stay active in the democratic process. This strong support is evident not only in Minnesota, where more than half of all voters have used this service, but in other states as well.

When the legislature of Maine tried to kill same-day registration last year, the voters put this on the ballot and by a huge margin – 61 percent to 38 percent – they overwhelming rejected the legislature’s effort. This very strong show of support for same-day registration is also what we find in Minnesota.

There is an underlying partisanship to this entire debate that is a departure from our tradition of building consensus on major changes in election law. Govs. Arme Carlson, Tim Pawlenty and Mark Dayton have all stated this in both public statements and in veto letters during the past two decades.

Major changes — forever

It is important to educate the public about what is actually being proposed. What the amendment proposes to do is eliminate the right of Minnesotans to register and vote on Election Day as we have done for 40 years.

The words “Election Day registration” do not appear in the amendment – nor do the words “absentee voting,” “military and overseas voting,” “township all-mail voting,” “religious objections,” among others. The kinds of exemptions that other states take for granted are missing, like senior citizens in nursing homes, the Amish, servicemen and women, and people with certain physical disabilities. The cost to local taxpayers or how this will be paid for is missing. Also missing is any mention of the new technology that has made photographic identification something that is easily faked and commonly obtained on a fraudulent basis.

What is important about constitutional amendments is that they are forever unless changed by a vote of the citizens or found unconstitutional. No legislature, not even one with a unanimous vote, can change a constitutional amendment, and no governor, by veto pen, can change a constitutional amendment.

We have always given special treatment to certain classes of voters. For example, starting in the Civil War we began to allow soldiers and others serving in military to vote by mail. It would be a giant step backward to use the Constitution to mandate “equal treatment” for a Red Bull in Kuwait City and someone in Lake City. We treat voters in nursing homes differently, often going out to where they are living and allowing them to vote from their rooms or even hospital beds if needed. To avoid residents of townships driving 80 miles potentially in a blizzard, we allow them to drop their ballot in the mail. Minnesota election law is clear on these differences, and most people support them.

Potential costs, and chaos, of provisional balloting

Some note that 43 other states use provisional ballots. That is correct. We are currently exempted, and people in the states not exempted are jealous and express this to me whenever we gather as secretaries of state. But the most common concern that other states mention to me is the high cost of litigation that comes with all of the legal challenges to provisional ballots. With a nationwide average of 30 percent never counted, this means many votes are discarded unless there is a legal challenge. The last election challenged due to provisional ballot disputes in the 2010 elections just got settled in Ohio a few months ago – after 15 months of legal wrangling that cost taxpayers.

Since our state has a special “Errors and Omissions” law that allows any citizen who has their ballot rejected to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the chaos and high cost to taxpayers experienced in Ohio and elsewhere could be magnified in our state.  

Changes welcome — but not these

We have some important improvements to make in our election system, and I welcome all opportunities to work on them. For example, I am concerned about felons who are voting before they are done with their probation; our bipartisan Election Integrity Taskforce has made a number of excellent proposals to the Legislature to address this concern. We advanced some of our policy proposals on this issue during the 2012 legislative session but ultimately our bill was denied a hearing in one key committee, despite strong bipartisan support. 

During the last legislative session I also worked to build bipartisan support for a very low-cost visual verification approach to be used by poll workers and election judges that would have put Minnesota on the leading edge of election integrity and technological modernization. Other states — including Maine, Colorado, and Nevada — have expressed interest in this idea and may leap ahead of Minnesota. To keep Minnesota No. 1 in both election turnout and election administration, I will be bringing this proposal back to the Legislature next January.

Challenges and opportunities

Over the past 150 years Minnesotans have created the best election system in the nation, and we have kept up the pace of innovation year after year. With the evolution of new technology and demographics, we are facing new challenges and opportunities. We are going to have a larger and larger number of older voters. What is the best way to keep them involved in the community at all levels, including voting?  We are going to have a new spike in young voters – not as large as the post World War II boom, but significant. How do we make sure they are welcomed into full participation in our democracy as they turn 18?

Technology is making it possible to inform and educate people in many new and exciting ways. It also comes with the challenges of cost and certain vulnerabilities. In this new digital world we can make many things easier, like on-line voter registration. But this digital age also brings with it hackers and computer system meltdowns that must be addressed with the utmost care.

Read the full text

Keeping Minnesota No. 1 in elections must be our shared goal. We cannot rest on our laurels, nor can we let extreme partisans of any stripe tear apart our system.

Since the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the actual language will not be printed on the ballot, it is up to each voter to find and carefully study the language of the proposed amendment on elections.

I urge all Minnesotans to read the full text. You might be surprised.

Mark Ritchie is Minnesota’s secretary of state.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/06/2012 - 08:47 am.

    Imagine how long & costly the Franken / Coleman recount if…

    …this amendment were in effect at the time.

    I don’t know the count of the various categories of voters who would have been EXCLUDED in that election, based on Mr. Ritchie’s analysis above – maybe someone here would be able to fill us in on that point.

    But it appears it would have been a huge number of voters excluded, at huge cost in time and money, and easily could have changed the election result.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2012 - 09:04 am.

      Imagine how long & costly the Franken / Coleman recount

      To say nothing of how bitterly disappointed Al would have been.

      • Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 09/06/2012 - 09:24 am.

        Shhh! Saying this is definitely not part of the “Voter ID” marketing strategy.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/06/2012 - 09:45 am.

        Methinks you have revealed your real purpose…

        …in support of the Voter ID amendment – change the election results, having nothing whatever to do with voter fraud, which barely exists in Minnesota.

        Perhaps you could weigh in here with the known extent of voter fraud in Minnesota against the hundreds of thousands whose vote could be extinguished under the new amendment (if adopted), to illustrate that your purpose is NOT to manipulate election results?

        Or perhaps you think that Franken’s election was a fraud? Since the recount was supervised by the Supreme Court, maybe you feel that the MN constitution itself, the Supreme Court itself, is part of the problem that doesn’t produce the election results you’d like?

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2012 - 10:56 am.

          Thank you Steve…

          The Democrat machine had completed it’s work on Franken’s behalf long before the recount started, Steve. Honestly counting fraudulently cast votes, or those that appeared out of thin air cannot change that.

          BTW, I’d appreciate it if Mr. Ritchie could substantiate his claim that “more than 1/2 of minnesotans” have made use of same day registration. As some Minnpost commentators often put it, “I call BS”.

          • Submitted by Susan McNerney on 09/06/2012 - 08:00 pm.

            Why yes, the “democrat machine” had been doing

            a lot of work before the recount started. They got out the vote. They got out more of their voters than the GOP did. That’s how that works.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/06/2012 - 11:07 pm.


            the presence of third party candidates who took votes from moderate Republicans had nothing to do with the DFL wins?

            • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/12/2012 - 02:33 pm.

              Absolutely not!

              Tom Horner siphoned off enough GOP voters to bring the count to within reach of Democrat machinations.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/06/2012 - 10:49 am.

        Overseas military votes could be invalidated

        Here’s another point…

        “Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, referred to a study the group did of convictions of felons voting illegally in the 2008 election. At the time of the report in October of 2011, there were 113 convictions. McGrath said the number is now more than 200 “ (from

        Let’s accept this number for the purpose of this discussion. The amendment proposes to solve the problem of these 200 votes.

        How many Minnesotans serving overseas voted in 2008?

        “During the 2008 General Election, Minnesota sent 5,745 absentee ballots to military personnel stationed overseas and their dependents; 3,702 of these were returned, of which 306 were rejected by election officials.” (from Subtracting the 306 excluded from the 3,702, I get 3,396 votes of this type cast.

        Based upon Mr. Ritchie’s analysis, those 3,396 votes could be extinguished; or to put it another way, there is nothing in the amendment to protect the franchise of those military voters.

        I’ve seen your mention of your military service on this site, and I think it shows a patriotic spirit. You should be credited for this.

        So why would you want to jeopardize the votes of literally thousands of Minnesotans serving overseas in the military for the sake of catching, say, 200 invalid votes ????

  2. Submitted by Robert Hoppe on 09/06/2012 - 01:07 pm.

    Voter fraud barely exists in Minnesota?

    Dem. Convention Chair Mayor Villaraigosa showed how the outcome a “Democratic” vote is already decided by party bosses. He had to try three times by voice vote from the delegates in an attempt to get a two-thirds majority to amend the Democratic Platform. The God and Jerusalem language needed a two-thirds majority, but only got a 50-50 split of support versus no support. Not to worry Chairman Villaraigosa said it passed…….that’s how they roll.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/06/2012 - 04:26 pm.

      Sorry to be trotting out the old “Your guys did it, too” thing

      But the fact is that your guys did do it, too. Surely you remember the flap over the RNC delegates rule change that happened just last week in Florida:

      But even more to the point, none of this has anything to do with the (non)prevalence of voter fraud in Minnesota.

      Relevance counts.

      • Submitted by Robert Hoppe on 09/06/2012 - 06:21 pm.

        Are there Democrats in Minnesota?

        You’re exactly right, it was only a rules change that less than 200 Ron Paul delegates objected to. What happened at the Democratic Convention was an example of outrageous vote fraud, pretending they had two-thirds of the delegates votes, when all could hear it was a 50-50 split.

        The Democratic big city machines steal elections, like when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley stole the 1960 election for JFK, it’s the Chicago way.

        Don’t be naive and pretend the Franken election was honest, cheaters cheat.

        Mr. Franken trailed Mr. Coleman by 725 votes after the initial count on election night, and 215 after the first canvass. The Democrat’s strategy from the start was to manipulate the recount in a way that would discover votes that could add to his total. The Franken legal team swarmed the recount, aggressively demanding that votes that had been disqualified be added to his count, while others be denied for Mr. Coleman.

        But the team’s real goldmine were absentee ballots, thousands of which the Franken team claimed had been mistakenly rejected. While Mr. Coleman’s lawyers demanded a uniform standard for how counties should re-evaluate these rejected ballots, the Franken team ginned up an additional 1,350 absentees from Franken-leaning counties. By the time this treasure hunt ended, Mr. Franken was 312 votes up, and Mr. Coleman was left to file legal briefs.

        • Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 09/06/2012 - 08:54 pm.

          WSJ Opinion from UpsideDownLand – Thanks for the link to that hilarious piece. I stopped reading comments at 5, that was plenty to take it apart with those “facts” that are so annoying.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/06/2012 - 10:54 pm.

          Quoting an opinion piece . . . .

          really doesn’t carry a lot of weight as a “cite”.

          And as for “swarming the recount” – I was a recount observer (not associated with either party). And I can tell you firsthand that party observers from BOTH parties exhibited boorish behavior at the recount tables and made the experience much harder on the election judges than it needed to be.

          To the credit of those election judges, they all (the ones I observed) retained cool heads and decorum and refused to allow themselves to be bullied. They just kept on keepin’ on, responded appropriately to valid requests from BOTH sides, and got the job done. My hat is off to them.

          This is something the writer of the WSJ opinion piece wouldn’t be likely to know because I doubt he or she spent hours and hours over several days quietly standing by and simply observing what was actually going on. And that’s why I reject emotional and alarmist opinion pieces such as the one you’ve cited.

          • Submitted by Robert Hoppe on 09/07/2012 - 07:30 am.

            Votes found in trunks of cars…..

            You have pointed out the problem with big city machine politics. You were one of the observers not affiliated with either party? The so-called independents and Republican election judges are in short supply in Minneapolis/St. Paul and other major urban cities.

            Are the facts and figures wrong in the WSJ “opinion” piece? Cite it. Oh, and don’t use any discredited, rabid liberal site funded by Soros, like the Huffington Post, please.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/07/2012 - 08:13 am.

              Your credibility would be a lot better . . . .

              if you didn’t keep bringing up urban myths as if they were facts.

              There were never any votes found in trunks of cars.

              However, there WAS a policy that absentee ballots be delivered to their “home” precincts for counting by elections officials by the end of the day, and on that day, some overseas ballots were received late and didn’t make it to the polls before they closed. So the election official drove them straight back to City Hall and they were returned to locked storage.

              (read down – it’s towards the end of the article).

              One of the productive things that came out of that situation was a change in the rules for how absentee ballots are handled. They are now counted at City Hall rather than being transported to all the various precincts. That is an improvement both from the standpoint of security and accuracy.

              So rather than seeing that situation as an indictment of the voting process, how about instead looking at it as an opportunity to make things better – an opportunity our elections officials were ready and willing to put into effect.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2012 - 01:58 pm.

    “nothing in the amendment to protect the franchise of military”

    I have to admit, I do not get where this particular bit of leftist disinformation got started from.

    This amendment protects the integrity of *everyone’s* franchise.

    There are provisions for absentee ballots in the amendment. Is Mr. Ritchie suggesting that members of our military are too stupid to follow a simple procedure, or is there an as yet undefined straw man waiting to be unveiled?

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/06/2012 - 02:39 pm.

      It’s the issue of that “substantially equivalent” standard

      Read the article again.

      If you know what “substantially equivalent” means – EXACTLY – and how it will be interpretted and implemented – EXACTLY – you’d better let us all know. I’m afraid your notion of a “simple procedure” here is pure presumption.

      You very well should be concerned about all the voters who cannot appear in person – including not only the thousands of military, but the hundreds of thousands of others noted in the article above.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/06/2012 - 03:16 pm.


        Are you suggesting that members of the US military serving in Baghdad won’t have a drivers license from their home state, or will be turned down for a state issued ID? Really?


        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/06/2012 - 09:44 pm.

          Just The Facts

          Military IDs do not have soldiers’ home addresses. Soldiers are told not to carry identification that would allow enemy captors to know personally identifying information such as home addresses.

          Still, having that Minnesota drivers license in Iraq or Germany does not do any good. It will not allow an election judge to match a face to a photo ID. There is no reason to believe that a photo copy of that ID will be valid. ALL voter are subject the same standard, no exceptions. The enabling legislation cannot over rule the amendment.

          Since conservative politicians get the majority of the military vote, this indicates to me that this amendment was not well thought out by the people that pushed it. In order to suppress likely Democratic votes, they threw some of their own under the bus.

          Flag-waving patriots, indeed!

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/06/2012 - 08:45 pm.

    There is just one problem: not only is voting fraud exceptionally rare, but most of those rare cases would not be prevented by the sorts of laws states are enacting, which generally require a government-issued photo ID. Such laws may be ineffective at preventing fraud, but they are extraordinarily effective at lowering turnout among black voters, students, the elderly and poor people. Now, those who support voter-ID laws often say that even a hint of voter fraud taints the system, and that requiring voters to obtain and show a government-issued photo ID protects “integrity in elections”. Far from preserving the integrity of the electoral process, one could argue that these laws imperil it by stoking fears of a rare crime and using it to cast doubt on an election’s outcome.

    But let me admit something here. In my high school years I knew some people who had fake IDs to buy beer. If protecting the integrity of the system is more important than extending the voting franchise to as many people as are eligible to exercise it, why stop at photo IDs? Surely biometric identification, eye-scans, fingerprint sensors, even blood samples are absolutely essential to protect “the integrity of the system”, no? If eliminating even the slightest possibility of voter fraud is the goal, then why not propose a system that would absolutely eliminate any prospect of fraud? Because otherwise, it seems as though voter-ID supporters are satisfied with half measures.

  5. Submitted by Ann Richards on 09/06/2012 - 09:42 pm.

    Mr Swift, you have not been keeping yourself educated on this issue have you?

    One of the authors of Voter ID admitted that he did not know how the military would vote- we are to just trust that they will be included. In addition to military, there are many thousands of volunteers and ex pats overseas. Why would a drivers license work alone for them and it won’t for those of us living here? And if that is all they needed it, who is going to process it? We will have to go in and get a new state issued ID, they can too. And if they are already overseas and this takes effect, fine. They won’t vote. But we will know that we kept a handful of excons from voting, and isn’t that what this is all about. So we disenfranchise a bunch of people, well too bad, they should have thought of that before they signed up to fight our wars and keep us safe.

    In 2008 I was overseas and voted absentee. It was not an easy process and I had trouble getting someone to witness my signature. I was already registered in Mpls but I didn’t take my drivers license with me, I had a passport but that will not be accepted.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/07/2012 - 01:59 pm.

      What author are you quoting Ann?

      And, with all due respect, I hardly think the inconvenient consequences of your failure to plan ahead constitute a very convincing argument.

  6. Submitted by Mark Ritchie on 09/08/2012 - 07:17 am.

    Use of Election Day Registration by Minnesota Voters

    61% of current Minnesota voters have registered to vote in their polling place, based on their voting history record in the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS).

  7. Submitted by Sara Fleets on 09/10/2012 - 03:33 pm.

    Military Absentee Voting

    Swift: “And, with all due respect, I hardly think the inconvenient consequences of your failure to plan ahead constitute a very convincing argument.”

    My translation: sorry you are at war risking your life for your country, since you didn’t plan ahead for your unknown length of deployment, you don’t get to vote.


  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/12/2012 - 11:13 am.

    Photo ID will prevent ZERO fraud.

    The only type of voter fraud could prevent is voter impersonation at the polls. There are exactly zero documented cases of this… ever in MN. All this requirement does, and all it’s really intended to do, is create barriers for legal voters trying to cast a legitimate vote on election day.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/13/2012 - 12:34 pm.


    The only cheating that currently takes place in MN on any significant level is with absentee ballots. But don’t worry Mr. Swift, those will be eliminated eventually. But you guys deny that don’t you?

Leave a Reply