Technological glitches disrupt GOP pitch for high-tech voting system

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, was going on and on this morning about the need to pull the Minnesota voting system “into the 21st Century.”

As part of her massive bill that includes the controversial provision requiring voters to have a photo ID, Kiffmeyer proposes that an electronic roster would be far better than the current system of voters signing in on Election Day.

The idea: “Swipe a card” and vote.

But rather than just talk about her 21st Century plan for how technology would ensure the “integrity” of Minnesota’s voting system, Kiffmeyer had a 10-minute video that she wanted to show the Government Operations Committee during testimony on the bills being pushed by Republicans.

“Chaos should not be a word used to describe the election process,” Kiffmeyer said.

Capacity crowd for hearing

There was, it should be noted, a standing-room-only crowd of people eager to testify on either side of the election bills.

Kiffmeyer nodded to the man seated next to her to start the video.

He hit a button.

Nothing happened.

He hit more buttons, but still no video showed up on the big screens in the hearing room.

The man was joined by another man. There was fiddling with the computer.

Ah, success.

There was audio!

“A 21st Century voting system …,” the recorded voice began.

But there was a problem. No video.

“Maybe we should save the video until Tuesday,” said the committee chairwoman, Rep. Joyce Peppin.

“Thank you, madam chair,” said Kiffmeyer.

The two men trying to get the video operational kept trying. The audio came on again.

“A 21st Century voting system …”

No video.

Kiffmeyer tried not to look flustered.

“Umm, it’s this technology in the House …,” Kiffmeyer said.

The chairwoman tried to speak. Her microphone didn’t work.

More testimony next week

All parties decided it would be best to try again Tuesday, when this committee will take more testimony on what Republicans have termed the vital need for Minnesota to tighten up and modernize its election system.

“We’ll be looking forward to Tuesday,” said Kiffmeyer.

The computer that was supposed to show the video was shut down. The chairwoman’s microphone started working.

After the hearing, Kiffmeyer was trying to explain what went wrong with her 21st Century presentation.

“This environment [the State Office Building] is not the usual environment,” she said, adding that if there were problems with the electronic roster she’s proposing, “there would be fail-safe systems’’ in polling places.

“Actually, two backup systems,” she said.

Of course, many observers, including the DFL minority members of the committee, found the day’s technological failure both amusing and ironic.

“Not every place where people vote has Internet access,” noted Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

 He suggested that there likely are any number of country churches, often used as polling places, that would not have Wi-Fi.

It should be noted that one of two voter ID bills being reviewed by the committee is going to pass the two chambers. It’s almost certain that, on a straight party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Legislature is going to pass a bill that requires photo ID and other changes  in Minnesota’s election process.

It’s just as certain that the bill will be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Nonetheless, the testimony — for and against — is filled with passion.

Supporters of photo ID seem convinced that the Minnesota system currently used is filled with fraud, or at least invites fraud.

Dan McGrath, who heads an organization called Minnesota Majority, testified that he’s found that 5 percent of those who used same-day registration to vote in 2008 provided information that later could not be verified.

Despite all the bragging we Minnesotans do about our high level of voter turnout, McGrath said he hopes “others states are not modeling their systems on Minnesota.”

The current system, he said, is “an abuse of trust.”

Contrasting strongly held views

Others who testified in support of Photo IDs and other reforms insisted “it just makes common sense” to have to come to the polling place.

“If you need a photo ID to buy alcohol or cigarettes, why shouldn’t you need a photo ID to vote?” asked one witness. “What’s the big deal?”

But others testified that making voting more difficult is, indeed, a big deal.

A woman who represents battered women pointed out that many women living in “safe havens” away from their abusers, would not vote if they were required to give their addresses.

Others, representing an array of people ranging from the urban poor to college students, said that requiring photo IDs and removing the current system that allows someone to vouch for a voter using same-day registration, would discourage many from voting.

Perhaps the most compelling testimony came from Mary Lou Hill, who is 94 years old and a member of the League of Women Voters. She noted that she was born four years before passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

She spoke of how she learned from her mother and aunts about the long struggle for women to win the right to vote.

“Whatever the intention,’’ Hill said, “it [the photo ID bill] will take away the right to vote for some.”

She noted that the elderly — and especially elderly women, who through their lives have gone through marriage(s) and name change(s) and many moves — might have a difficult time proving their identity for a photo ID.

“Eighteen percent of the people over 65 don’t have a photo ID,” she said.  “These bills will disenfranchise thousands of people.”

Again, none of the testimony will matter. Some form of a bill that requires voter ID is certain to pass.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, is disgusted that Republicans are so quick to overlook the problems many are predicting.

“They are shockingly indifferent to real-world problems,” Simon said. “That’s not the case if it’s a business issue. They would be up in arms if someone testified that some [legislative] action would place some burden on some small business.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/03/2011 - 02:32 pm.

    I have two ideas that should satisfy the Republican fetish for security and identification:

    How about implanting a RFID tag in everyone?

    Or, how about an ID number tattooed on the forearm?

    Problem solved!!

  2. Submitted by Pat Davies on 02/03/2011 - 03:23 pm.

    Doug Grow is excellent at capturing the essential elements, and funnier aspects, of stories he covers. There is no better illustration of this than his column on the House hearing on the trumped-up need for phote ID’s to vote. With over 4,000 precincts in Minnesota, each equipped with a computer to check registered voters’ statements, what could possibly go wrong on a big election day?

  3. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 02/03/2011 - 04:19 pm.

    ‘Dan McGrath, who heads an organization called Minnesota Majority, testified that he’s found that 5 percent of those who used same-day registration to vote in 2008 provided information that later could not be verified.’

    I’ll believe that when McGrath provides some solid evidence. We’ve done a lot of public scrutinizing of our recent elections, starting in 2008, and both Democratic and Republican officials have been involved. Why didn’t they concur with McGrath’s outrageous opinion?

    I am astonished at how little evidence the outraged citizens of the so-called Minnesota Majority can provide to defend their bizarre belief that our elections are rife with voter fraud. Why do they believe this? Is it because they are willing to believe the worst of people who vote for Democrats? It is because they are unwilling to believe that a Democrat can be elected fairly? Because in the absence of these prejudices, the case that they make for their world view is far from compelling.

    I am equally astonished that more people of every political stripe do not recognize who really threatens the integrity of our elections. It’s not voters; it’s election officials who “lose” ballots or unexpectedly “discover” them. One voter can’t easily change the outcome of an election, not even by risking prison by trying to vote fraudulently several times. But one crooked election official can easily change the outcome of an election, particularly if the only record we have of somebody’s vote is a flicker of data in a computer, which can be deleted with a single keystroke. In fact, hundreds of votes can be deleted with a single keystroke – unless we, the voters, demand that a verifiable paper copy be kept of every ballot.

    So Representative Kiffmeyer’s reform is wrong in two ways: it places an increased burden on the voters, who pose no threat to electoral integrity, and it opens the door to digital tampering by crooked election officials, who really can threaten electoral integrity. This misguided dual transfer of power from the electorate to the bureaucracy is more than worthy of a hearty gubernatorial veto.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/03/2011 - 04:41 pm.

    “The irony! The irony!”

  5. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 02/03/2011 - 05:10 pm.

    Oregon and Washington both have mail-in ballots and Colorado also allows early voting. This is contrary to the Voter ID trend, and if anything, would be more open to abuse than Minnesota’s system.

    Yet it doesn’t seem to be a problem in those states and it lowers the costs of elections and makes it easier for elderly and disabled to vote. Technology costs money, and as the former SOS should know, many of these outstate precincts have neither the money nor the infrastructure to implement new technology.

  6. Submitted by bernie hesse on 02/03/2011 - 05:34 pm.

    Myth making and telling tales is what I witnessed today in the hearing. We heard Rep. Benson tell us that a fourteen year old girl was refused access to her ACT test because she didn’t have a photo-ID. Really? When did 14 year olds start taking ACT tests? We heard cries for common sense and the litany of fraudulent opportunities, with no example of voter mob fraud.

    Let us be clear; both bills are to suppress votes and have nothing to do with election fraud.

    The 94 year old woman nailed it and the techno-glitch sealed it. No need, harm and cost are my reasons for opposing bad legislation.

  7. Submitted by Allison Sandve on 02/03/2011 - 08:55 pm.

    Good piece, Doug.

    I’m interested in the claim from the group that calls itself the Minnesota Majority that that “5 percent of those who used same-day registration to vote in 2008 provided information that later could not be verified.” How has that been validated?

    When I voted in the last general election, a “challenger” was present. The individual’s behavior toward election judges was visibly combative, but without justification. A crying shame. I’ve never encountered anything other than hard-working volunteers who strive to meet the needs of running elections with little, if any, thanks for their attention to detail and respect for those who come to polling places.

    Truth is, I don’t think anyone who looks like me — and I look pretty much the same as my Norwegian ancestors looked — would have raised an eyebrow. The “challengers” are not interested in people who look like me. If I had brown eyes? An accent? A last name that ends in a vowel? Look out. If the conduct I witnessed is any indication, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

    Can the backers of this legislation acknowledge they are profiling people who don’t look like me? The faces of our nation don’t look the way they did a generation ago, much the same way that they don’t look the same way they did two, three, four generations ago.

    Some honesty about the root of this “debate” would be productive.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/03/2011 - 10:08 pm.


    I just can’t help it, I’ve got to tell you rubes that you’re falling for it.

    This isn’t about convincing you to buy expensive technology to automate the vote counting. This is about getting you to “compromise” to go along with the photo ID card if they agree not to include the expensive computer gear as part of the deal. And you wonder why republicans always end up eating your lunch.

    heh. And Grow fell for it.

  9. Submitted by r batnes on 02/03/2011 - 11:34 pm.

    “Eating our lunch?”……what state have you been living in, Dennis? You’ve been in control of both chambers all of a month after 40 years. Enjoy it…it’s going to end sooner than you think.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/04/2011 - 06:25 am.

    The problem voter ID addresses, impostor voting, hasn’t been a problem. Of all the issues that have come up in the last couple of years, that one has been entirely missing.

    The problem that Republicans see with our elections that voter ID does address for them is that too many of the wrong sort of people are voting. In the Republican world view, lots of different kinds of people should be discouraged from voting. It’s a very diverse group, but one quality a lot of them share is that they tend to vote against Republicans.

    I think I have seen a version of Rep. Kiffmeyer’s video hymn to technology, the one that hit such a false note yesterday. I have seen the video in question, and I can assure everyone that anyone with a reasonable amount of sophistication in computer technology can usually make play, a level of sophistication that hopefully won’t be in short supply among Minnesota’s thousands af election judges should the system ever be employed. The video is about ten minutes long, and what I can tell you as a grizzled observer of messaging is that the controversial stuff starts about seven minutes, the very position where politicians engaged in the pulling of wool over eyes always like to put stuff.

    I know the technology of how we vote can be and maybe even should be improved. Some of the suggestions Rep. Kiffmeyer offers are good ones and merit serious consideration. But technology must never be allowed to become even a momentary obstacle to the casting of votes by anyone in our community who is qualified, under law, to vote.

  11. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 02/04/2011 - 06:29 am.

    How much will it cost to change the system? For that matter, how much will it cost to get photo IDs subsidized for those who can’t afford to get one?

    Why do Republicans wail and gnash their teeth over the budget, and then propose new, unnecessary expenditures?

    There is no proof of voter fraud in Minnesota. Let’s focus on real issues.

  12. Submitted by William Pappas on 02/04/2011 - 07:37 am.

    This issue really puts republicans in a strange position. They are advocating for fixing a system of voting that has proven to be just about the best and most accurate system in the country (Why does that surprise me since they are also trying to fix Social Security which is the most fundamnetally sound government program ever conceived). To make that fix they have to institue a Voter ID program that will be expensive and create problems for many polling places. We all know, including republicans, that voter fraud essentially does not exist. The Franken/Coleman recount proved that durring the incredibly accurate recount. Let’s record this for posterity, repubicans want more government regulation and intrusive bureacracy to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Is there no end to their political and ideological efforts that ignore the needs of the people and the realities of the times. No cost is too high for them to shove their ideology onto the people of Minnesota. We had enough of that from Pawlenty, whom Minnesotans have soundly rejected as a significant force in our state politics.

  13. Submitted by Clayton Haapala on 02/04/2011 - 04:55 pm.

    A poster above got it right about voter vs. electoral fraud.
    Voter fraud in MN is a micro-problem, and it would take a large amount of secret organization to make it a big problem that affects an election. Electoral fraud, thankfully also not alleged nor proven in MN, is much more efficient and mistakes and malicious acts have much more of a macro effect on the results. Electoral fraud is *aided* by the widely, if not wildly, insecure electronic voting systems available.

    Oh, and the comment about “name ends in a vowel” spawning a challenge at the poll made me grin. “Hey, buddy — you don’t look Hawaiian! Show me some ID!”

  14. Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 02/05/2011 - 02:13 pm.

    One question on vouching.

    Vouchers have to sign when they vouch. Has any voucher ever been charged with fraud?

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