Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Technological glitches disrupt GOP pitch for high-tech voting system

Republican Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer was touting the need to pull Minnesota’s voting system “into the 21st Century,” until tech problems wrecked her presentation.

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.

Article continues after advertisement

“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!

Article continues after advertisement

“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.

Article continues after advertisement

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.

Article continues after advertisement

 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.