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Secretary of State Mark Ritchie offers Voter ID alternative: electronic poll books

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has proposed an alternative to the Voter ID plan now being considered by Republicans in the Legislature.

At a state Senate hearing Friday, he said electronic poll books can eliminate the potential voter fraud problems that supporters of Voter ID want to solve  by having voters show a government ID before being allowed to vote. Rather than the voters bringing in an ID, the poll workers would look at official photos already in the state system.

The electronic poll books would allow poll workers to verify voter identity by looking — on paper printouts or with an electronic device  — at driver’s license photos and photos taken during voter registration.

In the GOP’s proposed Voter ID system, the voters would be responsible for obtaining and displaying their own government ID, which could be forged.

Both DFL and Republican legislators have expressed interest in the electronic system.

Ritchie said the electronic poll book system would cost $10 million, compared with an estimated $40 million for the Voter ID system proposed by Republicans last year.

Comments (44)

  1. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 02/20/2012 - 03:42 pm.

    This is a joke, right?

    I thought the Democrats, er, the left, wanted to “make every vote count” and have a “traceable, verifiable paper ballot” or something like that.


  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/20/2012 - 04:25 pm.


    And if I don’t already have a photo in the system?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/20/2012 - 04:46 pm.

      The article implied

      Your photo would be taken when you register to vote.

      • Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/21/2012 - 01:29 pm.

        Yes, it does.

        But doesn’t this still come down to requiring that we have photo ID? What am I going to use to register to vote and how am I going to prove that I am the person named in the documents I submit? Sounds like an endless round of Catch 22 to me.

        • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/22/2012 - 12:47 am.

          Not if requirements don’t change

          If the ID requirements for registering don’t change, which is obviously the big question, then non-photo Id will continue to be accepted. I agree it’s pointless when impersonation doesn’t happen anyway, but if it avoids the problem of disenfranchising people who can’t get photo IDs, I can live with it.

  3. Submitted by Jeffrey Maas on 02/20/2012 - 05:55 pm.

    The joke is …

    … apparently on Mr. Krasnoff, who (understandably) fails to make the crucial distinction here between the registration verification process and the ballot casting process. Electronic poll books have nothing to do with traceable, verifiable ballots, except that both are systems that are used (or at least could be used) during an election. Since this distinction seems unclear to at least one MinnPost reader, I will elaborate.

    Poll books are what get used to sign voters in before they receive a ballot. In Minnesota, our rosters are currently printed on paper and typically kept in three-ring binders. However, if you were to talk to an election administrator, most, if not all of them, would agree that moving the poll books into the digital age is desirable, once the technology is available and reliable (and affordable). Traceable paper ballots has to do with the type of ballot a voter interfaces with when voting. Some states have moved to casting ballots by touch screen instead of on paper. Traceability has to do with the fact that some of the touch-screen ballot counters on the market don’t even create a basic paper trail. Our neighbors in Wisconsin have begun to use touch screen machines that do generate a paper trail (and, in addition, voters are offered the option of casting a paper ballot if they aren’t comfortable with the touch screens).

    And before Mr. Krasnoff responds harshly, let me say that I can’t blame him for not understanding the difference. Unless you actually work the elections as a judge or administrator and understand the different processes in play, you’d be unlikely to understand these somewhat subtle distinctions. However, the comparison he’s made is between apples and oranges. Sure, it’s elections stuff, sure election technologies are implicated, but it’s very different election processes and very different election technologies. The suggestion that there’s a conflict between the two and that “Democrats, er, the left” are speaking out of both sides of their mouths in this instance is simply incorrect. Both are good ideas, both are doable ideas.

    • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 02/20/2012 - 11:18 pm.

      Another photo?

      Another database? More bureaucracy?

      Just verify the legal status of the voter during the registration process (no more same day and up to a dozen or so vouched registrations by one person) and use a state issued ID card for verification on election day.


      • Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 02/21/2012 - 09:52 am.

        More Bureaucracy?

        A voter ID proposal would create a significant increase in bureaucracy, as evidenced by the fact that implementing it will cost four times as much as an electronic poll book system.

        Oh, and by the way, voter ID wouldn’t do anything to stop the ONLY kind of election fraud that has been prosecuted in MN in the last 10 years: felons voting accidentally. Which is a problem that electronic poll books could fix. I have no problem having an entry in the database indicating that someone isn’t yet off papers and is ineligible to vote. However, I don’t think someone should be forced to have that on their state issued ID card. And if it isn’t on their ID card, then they wouldn’t be turned away from the polls even with a proper ID.

        Bottom line: electronic poll books would cost less and could solve the one verifiable problem any (legitimate) investigation of Minnesota’s election system has found.

      • Submitted by Jeffrey Maas on 02/21/2012 - 04:00 pm.

        No, not another database

        Simply adding pictures wouldn’t necessitate the creation of another database. Instead what would happen is that new data fields would be added in the current database, the SVRS (Statewide Voter Registration System). Maybe that’s a fine distinction to persons who lack an IT background, but as with your conflation of registration processes and ballot casting processes, the actual differences are significant in terms of cost, time and effort. Or perhaps you were assuming that using electronic poll books will necessitate creating a new database, which would also be a false assumption. The change would be in how the roster appears at a polling place (paper vs. electronic device), not in how the data in the rosters is created.

        Also, I’d like to know the assumptions behind your belief that this would create more bureaucracy. I say that because one of the main reasons election administrators expect to adopt electronic poll books at some time in the future is because they will increase efficiency (as technology tends to do). I’d be very surprised if this created some big new bureaucracy. In fact, I’d be surprised if it resulted in a net addition to elections officials at the state, county, or municipal levels.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/20/2012 - 06:39 pm.

    Mark Ritchie? THAT Mark Ritchie?

    Mark Ritchie, who magically gave Al Franken the senate seat six weeks after Norm Coleman appeared to win by 725 votes? The guy with direct ties to ACORN, and George Soros?? That Mark Ritchie is going to suggest how to make our elections fraud proof? I was going to say “don’t make me laugh” but it’s too late.

    And $40 million is totally bogus. Even MN’s state bureaucrats couldn’t cause the voter ID law to cost that much. Let’s see the itemized estimate.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/21/2012 - 07:45 am.

      Did you even watch the recount?

      With all the eyes on that process – from both campaigns, as well as non-partisan observers – just how in the world do you propose that Mr. Ritchie was able to work his “magic”?

      But of course, if you had your way. any vote cast by a woman should not count anyway (sorry I can’t link to the comment where you stated your belief on that subject since MinnPost has not yet restored previous comments) so maybe you think an all-male vote count would have shifted to Coleman?

      Now THAT (counting votes from only men) would have been magical!

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/21/2012 - 09:17 am.

        We all agree Pat

        The bogus ballots were counted carefully. It’s called closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/21/2012 - 12:53 pm.

          And again, did you even WATCH the recount?

          What “bogus ballots”? The process – the one that was watched by observers from both parties, as well as nonpartisan observers – started with the opening of the SEALED boxes the ballots had been kept in since the election.

          Given how transparent the whole process was, and the eagle-eyed scrutiny it received from BOTH sides, I find these continuing allegations of irregularities to be more than laughable.

          • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/21/2012 - 04:46 pm.

            Those boxes were sealed with bogus ballots inside. The process started months before the election, when absentee ballots were passed out like soda crackers, with absolutely no oversight. In addition, there were several instances of wide imbalances between voter rolls and ballots turned in.

            Like I said; the horses were long gone before the cameras arrived.

            It’s OK though, Pat…we’re gonna fix this yet.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/21/2012 - 07:51 pm.

              Oh for pete’s sake!

              I hear Jesse Ventura is always looking for guests to interview on his “Conspiracy Theory” TV show. Maybe you should send in your application . . . . . .

            • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/22/2012 - 12:51 am.

              Give it up Pat

              Valiant try, but evidence is beside the point. You’ll never convince the tin foil brigade the election wasn’t stolen. They didn’t get the result they wanted, therefore it was stolen.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/20/2012 - 07:06 pm.

    $10 million… $40 million… Pretty soon, they’ll be talking about *real* money.

    I’ve yet to see any evidence of significant voter fraud in Minnesota elections  – enough to justify spending what used to be considered rather sizable sums. What we’re dealing with now is the “potential” for voter fraud.

    Read that as GOP paranoia that some nursing home residents or people of color might vote for a DFL candidate. A couple dozen felons voting by mistake, because they thought their civil rights had been restored, does not constitute the sort of “crisis” that might justify spending millions of dollars to replace the system we already have, especially if what we’re spending the money on is basically to solve a problem we *might* have at some indeterminate time in the future, but that hasn’t yet occurred.

    Mr. Ritchie’s proposal might be less expensive, but it’s still a reflection of a “The Sky Is Falling!!” mentality. When we can document significant voter fraud problems, I’ll have no trouble supporting a new or different system, even if/when it costs *real* money. Until then, this is thinly-disguised voter suppression…

  6. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 02/20/2012 - 11:20 pm.

    I don’t trust

    Mark Ritchie or any future government bureaucrat from cross-referencing a picture in their database with a vote.

    Nope. No thanks.

    • Submitted by James Bowen on 02/21/2012 - 02:32 am.

      You don’t trust?

      1) Present system: Voter arrives at polling place and gives his/her name and address. Election judge checks voter’s name off list of registered voters (or carries out same-day registration process) and gives voter a ballot which is in no way linked to the just-completed identification process. Voter marks ballot in private and casts it.

      2) GOP system: Voter arrives at polling place and shows government-issued photo id. Satisfied with voter’s identify election judge checks voter’s name off list of registered voters and gives voter a ballot which is in no way linked to the just-completed identification process. Voter marks ballot in private and casts it.

      3) Ritchie system: Voter arrives at polling place and gives his/her name and address. Election judge matches voter with registration photo, either from paper print-out or electronic media. Satisfied with voter’s identify election judge checks voter’s name off list of registered voters and gives voter a ballot which is in no way linked to the just-completed identification process. Voter marks ballot in private and casts it.

      While I do not necessarily favour option 3, I would be most interested to learn how it offers an opportunity to cross-reference a voter to a vote.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/25/2012 - 09:23 am.


        Currently an inexpensive and simple verification process simply mails a registration card out the address the voter provided. If that card comes back as undeliverable because the person doesn’t live there, or the address is a vacant lot, then the person isn’t registered, and further investigation is conducted. By the way, you committing felony perjury if you give a false address, and those cases are prosecuted. The only thing that changes with Richy’s proposal is that when you show up to vote, election judges can be absolutely sure it was YOU who committed perjury because they’ll be able to match your photo to the undeliverable card.

    • Submitted by Mike Lhotka on 02/21/2012 - 11:00 am.


      I would guess (probably correctly) that all of our government id pictures are already in a database that can be accessed easily. These would likely be the source of the pictures in the electronic polling books.

  7. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 02/21/2012 - 06:54 am.

    Here’s how.

    Name, face, ballot number. All in one database.

  8. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 02/21/2012 - 09:03 am.

    There IS no “ballot number”

    There IS no “ballot number.” Sheesh.

    • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 02/21/2012 - 11:59 am.

      IIRC the ballots are numbered.

      The ones that you put into the machine.

      • Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/21/2012 - 03:43 pm.

        The ballots are not numbered

        Each one is counted as it is placed into the machine by the voter. The purpose is only to show how many ballots were cast and see whether that number matches the number of completed ballots in the drawer.

      • Submitted by Jeffrey Maas on 02/21/2012 - 04:27 pm.

        What are you even talking about?

        Have you ever worked an election before, Mr. Krasnoff? Ballots don’t have a trackable, traceable numbering system on them. The secret ballot is one of the most sacrosanct principles of our election system. The only time there’s any sort of numbering done on ballots is when a ballot needs to be duplicated. And duplication is only done in cases where the ballot counting scanner is rejecting a ballot for very particular reasons (such as misprinted timing marks, excessive folding of absentee ballots, or certain types of overseas ballots that are received on a non-standard ballot image). And even then, the marked duplicate can only be traced back to the original ballot that was in need of duplication. Admittedly, in some of the furthest-flung parts of Greater MN, there are some election in which so few ballots of certain types (overseas & military, absentee) are received that it does become possible to determine a exactly which was a person’s ballot and how it was voted, but that’s a statistical issue, not a ballot numbering one.

        So can you please explain what it is you’re trying to say. Right now it just looks like you’re uninformed on this topic.

        • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 02/22/2012 - 02:52 pm.


          Voter is identified by ID and picture in database. Voter is handed a ballot with a number on it. Voter fills out the ballot. Voter placed numbered ballot placed into machine. Machine records numbered ballot with voting record. Ballot can be cross-referenced in database with ID.

      • Submitted by Craig Huber on 02/23/2012 - 11:26 am.

        You do not recall correctly.

        No, ballots are not numbered.

  9. Submitted by David Mensing on 02/21/2012 - 11:46 am.

    Sounds Promising

    Of course, Republicans don’t like any idea proposed by the Secretary of State. A system confined to the voting system (not tied in with DMV) would seem to be cheaper and easier.

  10. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 02/21/2012 - 11:56 am.

    no satisfying the Republicans

    There will be no proposal that will satisfy Republicans unless it has the potential to limit votes by minorities, the poor, elderly and immigrants. That is the whole point of the amendment proposal. Republicans believe in the will of their party, not the will of the people. Their “theology” is based on worship of money and power under the guise of literal belief in the most nonsensical parts of the Bible. Their weapons are lies, distortion and innuendo.

  11. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 02/21/2012 - 12:30 pm.

    Voter Fraud

    Still waiting for the voter fraud reward to be claimed. With “thousands” of voter fraud instances documented by Kiffmeyer and crew, you would think the GOP would be out of debt by now.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/21/2012 - 10:46 pm.

      Once the law is in effect

      and voters will actually be asked to identify themselves, we’ll be in a position to stop and arrest those people who are not eligible to vote. See how that works?

      Here’s the problem. Not all licensed drivers are citizens and only citizens are allowed to vote, so simply using DMV photos is not good enough to catch ineligible voters.

      • Submitted by Jeffrey Maas on 02/22/2012 - 04:05 pm.

        I’m now thoroughly confused

        If I’m reading your comment above correctly, Mr. Tester, you’re suggesting that a driver’s license — the gold standard by which we currently register the vast, vast majority of people to vote in our state — would no longer be an acceptable form of ID for registering and voting if the amendment gets passed?? I’ve watched the debates at the capitol, I’ve read the various bills and the amendment, but I’ve never heard anyone attached to the legislation say that they wanted to replace DL’s and state ID’s within the larger process. When they talk about issuing Voter IDs, the context is about issuing them only to people who don’t already have a DL or state-issued (or tribal) ID, not issuing them to all voters. I’d love to see those additional costs; I know that none of the fiscal notes have included them. Far more importantly though, I’d love to know what form of ID would then be satisfactory in order to verify these new ID’s you think are going to be created? It seems like you’re merely running yourself in a verification circle. I do want to be clear that I agree with you on one point — that IDs don’t have a citizenship notation, at least as far as I’m aware — but your suggestion here that DL’s and other state-issued IDs aren’t in the eventual solution runs into a big regression problem.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/21/2012 - 03:39 pm.

    Voting would not change

    Voting would still be done on paper ballots that are counted and processed by a machine which holds all the ballots in its bottom drawer until they are removed by election staff when the polls close.
    The number of paper ballots in the drawer must match the number the machine received and counted and the total for the precinct must match that of the number of voters who checked in.

    The only thing that will be different is that confirming a voter’s i.d. would cost only one-fourth the cost of the Republican plan and would not disenfranchise anyone who could not afford a special i.d. or who does not have access to a birth certificate because they were born in 1940 in Latvia or Ghana or Peru.

    • Submitted by carter meland on 02/22/2012 - 10:03 am.

      Speaking of Peru

      A friend is from Peru and, as he explained it to me, the Peruvians all have a voter ID pamphlet (state-supplied? I’m not sure) and are required by law to vote. Your pamphlet is stamped at the polling place. If you don’t vote, you are fined. Perhaps legislative voter ID proposals should think about ways to increase the voting percentage through legislation–and before anyone freaks out and says “voting is a choice, not mandatory”, perhaps we could extend all ballots to include a “None of the Above” when voting for particular offices. A protest vote that’s actually counted might make more of an impact electorally (or at least might register on party officials/platforms) than not going to the polls.

      I guess I’m wondering why we don’t seek ways to expand the numbers of those voting. I know that the current Repub effort is aimed at limiting those who vote. Rather than responding to Repub proposals like this one (which the Richie prop seems, in part, to be), why don’t Dems go on the offensive and put forth proposals to bring everyone to the polls. Imagine you threw a democracy and everyone came!

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/22/2012 - 10:02 am.

    There is a gaping hole in Ritchies plan. Nowhere does he explain how he plans to verify the eligibility of the voters in his database.

    Without verification, we might as well just mail absentee ballots to whoever asks for one….like we do now.

  14. Submitted by Jeffrey Maas on 02/22/2012 - 04:27 pm.

    Do you honestly believe …

    … that absentee ballots aren’t verified?

    Or, as regards the voters in the database you’re purportedly concerned about, do you really believe that the SVRS (Statewide Voter Registration System — the voter reg database) doesn’t do a number of checks of the information submitted by a voter (who is actually just an applicant at that stage, really) before that person is placed, unflagged, in the registration rolls??

    Furthermore, do you actually believe that our laws somehow don’t have specific language that specifically requires submitted voter registration cards to be matched and cross-checked in other ways in order to ensure that the info is valid and the applicant is eligible to vote???

    All I can say, Mr. Swift, is … wow, your lack of elections administration knowledge is quite staggering. But, hey, don’t let details get in the way of your otherwise (self-evidently) sound argumentation.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/25/2012 - 09:33 am.

    Gaping hole?

    I’ve noticed that comment after comment by voter ID proponents reveals a breathtaking ignorance regarding how our current system works. The current registration system DOES verify eligibility. That’s what the whole voter registration process is about. If you lie about your identity, or your address when you register to vote, you are committing felony perjury punishable by up to 5 years in prison, and they Secretary State verifies every registration.

    All Richie is talking proposing is adding a photo to the current system, the verification is already built in and being done.

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