Testimony was decidedly slanted towards some form of early voting. It was clearly orchestrated by a DFL member who favored the idea. No opposing views were heard (however, the committee chair has invited other viewpoints in to express their views on a variety of election issues for the next scheduled meeting). A couple election judges were brought in to bemoan long lines in their precincts. The solution they universally offered was to create a system of “early voting,” to reduce the volume of voters in the polling place on Election Day.
There are a number of problems with the proposal.
First, aren’t we supposed to be happy when lots of voters participate in an election? Minnesota prides itself on high voter turnout. Voting is both a right and a duty. Sometimes participation in the process requires some sacrifice. We should be as accommodating as possible to encourage participation, but never at the expense of the integrity and trustworthiness of the system. Long lines should be corrected, but having to wait a bit to be heard is not so shameful as fraudulent votes. If our society has sunk so low as to consider the inconvenience of a a wait in line to have one’s say in the governance of our state or nation the equivalent of disenfranchisement, we may as well abandon the concept of self-governance and adopt a dictatorship or monarchy to tell us what to do and how to live.
The 2012 election set new records, with some precincts reporting 150% turn-out of registered voters. If lines are onerous, speeding the Election Day registration process, adding equipment, streamlined technology and more election judges seems like a reasonable solution. In the process, we might weed out some ineligible voters.
Second, extending in-person, live-ballot voting to a window of a couple weeks to a month before the official Election Day creates some conundrums. Recall the tragic Death of Senator Wellstone just before the election. If we had them, early votes would not be able to be recalled. They’d have already been tabulated for someone who was deceased and unable to assume office. Had Wellstone won reelection, how would we seat a dead senator?
Early voting tabulates votes in the optical scanner as soon as they are cast. Who might have access to the running tally of votes for and against the candidates leading up to Election Day? Could a leak of early voting data in the final weeks before Election Day benefit one campaign or another?
Finally, how does early voting affect the integrity of our elections? Since Minnesota doesn’t require ID to vote and any registered voter (who doesn’t even have to prove they’re registered in the precinct, or are who they say they are with ID) can vouch for up to 15 unidentified voters, early voting expands the window for fraud, exponentially. For example: if an ill-intended person could vote 10 times on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, how many more times could they vote with weeks instead of a single day to carry out their scheme?
On Election Day, each major political party struggles to muster as many volunteers as they can to observe voting in action at over 4,000 Minnesota polling places. How could that integrity measure possibly be applied for weeks on end of early voting? It’s hard enough for the parties to cover all the precincts with one day of voting. Weeks? Impossible. The bipartisan tradition of polling place challengers would be decimated by early voting. Citizen oversight would become a thing of the past. We’d be beholden, 100% to the word of elected officials and their hired or appointed election workers who rely on their elected bosses for continued employment.
The people we put in office, whose very livelihood often depends on the results of elections, would be responsible for accepting and tabulating ballots without any realistic possibility of oversight from the citizens. Couple that with the recent refusal by county election administrators to release certain (classified as public) election records to the public, and you have a recipe for future Stalinist tyranny.
“You know, comrades,” said Stalin, “that I think in regard to this: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.”
Citizen oversight of our election process is critically important. It’s been rare until recent years when any citizens took it upon themselves to investigate the process, but when Minnesota Majority engaged in post-election research after our previous presidential election, we uncovered enough evidence of fraud to lead to a record-breaking number of convictions in Minnesota. In fact, following the 2008 election, more people were convicted for voter fraud in Minnesota than any other state had seen since the 1930s.
When the public servants responsible for keeping the election records refuse to allow the public to see them, there is serious cause for alarm. Are we still, as President Lincoln once put it, a nation of the People, by the People and for the People?
The Voter ID Amendment that we fought for, and expended tremendous resources in support of failed bay a few percentage points, but despite an unwillingness of some people to enshrine the concept in the state’s Constitution, support for election integrity remains strong in Minnesota. Will the current legislature “get it right?” That’s yet to be seen, but so far, the emphasis has been on access, with little to no attention paid to integrity.
If we can’t rely on fair elections to peaceably change a government that may become intolerable to the People, what else can we rely on? Fair, reliable elections are the very foundation of peaceful transitions of power in our great, young, 237-year-old republic.
To be sure, voter fraud has been with us from the beginning of our great nation, and will likely play a role in every election until our demise, but we are a great people with high ideals. Will we suffer fraud unchallenged? Will we still strive to be the shining city on the hill, being the best democracy we can be and an example to the world? Or, will be apathetically suffer usurpations by fraud, and allow our once great nation to decline, with scales on our eyes?
The bottom line in any discussion about election reforms is this: We should have both access and integrity in our system. That means it should be easy to vote, but hard to cheat and our system should be capable of detecting the cheaters. Right now it isn’t. It requires the work of non-governmental, concerned citizens to root out fraud, but of late, our government is trying to outlaw the search for fraud. They want to outlaw the enforcement of election law!
In Thursday’s Election Committee hearing, a few positive ideas were raised, which we may help advance, but never were uttered the words, “integrity;” “prevent fraud;” or “confidence.”
Electronic poll books have been advocated by Minnesota Majority for years, to save money, increase accuracy, improve law enforcement capabilities and increase efficiencies. After all these years, the legislature is willing to consider this 21st Century improvement, but the devil will be in the details.
Don’t be confused between electronic voting and electronic poll books!
E-voting is an abhorrent, unverifiable balloting system with no paper trail. It typically involves touch-screen balloting. Electronic poll books are not that! They are simply a replacement for the paper sign-in rolls that will add the benefits of faster data entry, cost-savings, and voter verification (if properly implemented).
During the 2012 election campaign, the forces aligned against Voter ID continuously said, “Send it back to get it right.” Will they take up the issue of voter verification? It’s yet to be seen. So far, the primary committee responsible for initiating election legislation has focused entirely on access, with no apparent interest in integrity. The committee does seem to have in interest in poll books, but how they’ll be implemented is yet to be seen.
Thursday’s committee hearing wrapped up with a proposal to limit political speech, courtesy of Gary Goldsmith, the executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board. He suggested that non-profit organizations, such as Minnesota Majority should not be able to communicate with their members about the voting records of the constituents’ representatives during certain times of the year (such as 30-60 days before an election).
The next House Elections Committee hearing will be on Thursday, January 24th at 12:30 PM in the basement conference room at the State Office Building. Groups proposing looser elections, as well as groups supporting election integrity will be testifying.
Attend the January 24th House Elections Committee Meeting – wear pro-integrity shirts, buttons, or whatever you have, but don’t bring signs. They’re generally prohibited. Please respectfully show the committee your support for election integrity.
Thursday, January 24th at 12:30 PM
Elections Committee Hearing
Basement Conference Room, State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
Paid parking is convenient in the Transportation building lot.