And you thought Election Day is Nov. 2? Wrong.
Voting begins today in all 87 Minnesota counties for those who want to vote via absentee ballot, either by mail or in person at city halls and county courthouses from Grand Marais to Pipestone.
Given the recent polls, and yet another three-way race for a statewide office, some officials are preparing for another 2008-style recount in an election that’s sure to attract 2 million voters.
“We are certainly anticipating the governor [recount] this year,” said Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky. “We’ve got the room set up. I’ve told the staff, ‘Don’t plan on taking any days off in late November or early December.’ “
Hennepin County has a recount plan in place, too, said elections chief Rachel Smith.
But before DFLer Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer or Independence Party candidate Tom Horner somehow get within one-half of 1 percent of each other — triggering an automatic recount — Minnesotans have to go to the polls, or vote via absentee ballot.
Because of legislation passed in 2010, the absentee ballot process has been improved and somewhat simplified. Not simple enough, perhaps, but better than 2008, most elections officials agree.
First off, no longer is there an issue over the controversial signature match between an absentee ballot application and the ballot return envelope; voters now use their Social Security numbers or driver’s license serial numbers to legally submit their ballots and prove a match.
Also, absentee ballots envelopes won’t be evaluated at precincts on Election Day by tired or even unqualified poll workers; instead, absentee ballot boards, selected by election directors statewide, will evaluate the acceptability of envelopes beginning as early as next week.
And this morning, DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who is up for re-election himself, is expected to announce a new streamlined way for voters to find out online whether their absentee ballots have been accepted or not. Ritchie was to unveil the new portal at an 11 a.m. news conference.
New system and recount
According to county voting officials, if there was any glitch with the absentee ballot envelopes during the primary, it came when some witnesses to those voting didn’t record their addresses on the ballot return envelopes.
For years, many election officials have sought to have the witness requirement removed from the absentee ballot process, but that effort failed when the Legislature made some other important changes.
Of the witness requirement for previously registered voters, Mansky said, “This is just one unnecessary hoop for voters to jump through.” As many have noted, when we file our income taxes, witnesses aren’t required. Why so when we vote? Why shouldn’t voting be self-certified, too?
Another improvement because of legislative changes: Rejected absentee ballot voters are quickly informed of their problematic ballots either by U.S. mail, email or phone calls. A new ballot is then sent out to the voter.
According to Ritchie spokesman John Aiken, that swift turn-around on correcting invalid absentee ballots “was extremely successful” in August’s primary, and should be as efficient in the general election.
Ready for recount?
Overseas absentee ballots went into the mail Sept. 10. Domestic absentee ballots began being mailed by many counties this week. At 8 a.m. this morning, voters could begin bringing their sealed envelopes to clerks. In late October, those votes will begin to be counted.
Mansky, the dean of county election directors, and Ritchie predicted last year that August’s primary could result in a recount. They were wrong on that score.
“I’d like to be wrong about this one, too,” Mansky said, with a chuckle. But that prospect looms for November.
A survey of the three campaigns by MinnPost found that Emmer’s campaign is “developing a [recount] plan,” according to communications director Carl Kuhl. Emmer campaign manager Cullen Sheehan managed Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign and some of the early phases of the 2008 recount. Party lawyers Tony Trimble and Matt Haapoja were deeply involved in the Senate recount and, presumably, would aid any Emmer effort.
Katie Tinucci, Dayton’s deputy campaign manager, said, for now, the Dayton campaign has no recount plan. But Jaime Tincher, the DFL’s get-out-the-vote (GOTV) expert for the Dayton campaign, worked extensively on the Franken recount. Presumably, DFL-linked lawyer and Franken recount lawyer David Lillehaug would have a role.
Campaign manager Stephen Imholte said that a Horner campaign lawyer will be coordinating any recount plan with the Independence Party.
Ritchie spokesman Aiken said a recount plan was in place for the August primary, and a general election plan is beginning to be formed. The Secretary of State’s Office has begun to survey county election officials on their needs for a November recount.
Any recount plan would have to be approved by the state Canvassing Board, which is made up of two Supreme Court justices, two district court judges and Ritchie. No draft recount plan from Ritchie’s office yet exists. But state elections director Gary Poser is about as diligent and prepared as a human being can be. So the state is ready.
Other election officials note that if there is a 2010 recount, it would be somewhat different from 2008 because of legislative changes and technological advances.
Absentee ballots that are damaged when opened will be duplicated, as always, by election officials. But if there’s a recount, the duplicate that was counted will be, by law, the prevailing document, not the original ballot. In the Senate recount, at the insistence of the Coleman lawyers, the originals were counted, and that created some controversy later.
Also, the Statewide Voter Registration System has been updated considerably; election officials can better monitor whether citizens voted in more than one precinct or more than one county or if ineligible voters wrongly cast ballots.
Still, should the gubernatorial race tumble into a recount zone, that process would occur in cities and counties across the state, not in any centralized location. Goofy ballots would be challenged by the various parties.
The Canvassing Board would play a critical role. Of course, we’ve been there before, watching democracy’s complex tango, which, for 2010, begins today.