In Minnesota’s elections we trust

Claims of illegal voting and manipulated results are overblown.

by Michael Rietmulder

Minnesotans let out a collective groan on Nov. 3 when they heard the most abhorrent word in Minnesota politics âÄî recount. Unfortunately, we are no strangers to close elections and the mudslinging accompanying them. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and other election officials are popular targets of the disaffected partyâÄôs angst.

Despite Republican Party Chairman Tony SuttonâÄôs wild claims of foul play and for-show lawsuits against St. Louis and Pine Counties, Minnesotans should have faith in our elections process.

Democrat Mark Dayton leads the GOPâÄôs Tom Emmer by 8,755 votes after all 87 county canvassing boards certified their election results Friday. This figure represents a shift of only 101 votes âÄî out of more than 2 million âÄî from the Nov. 3 totals.

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs hosted a discussion last Wednesday regarding this yearâÄôs election and the looming recount featuring elections officials and lawyers involved in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount. Kevin Corbid, an elections official in Washington County, said that, given the number of checks and balances in place, it would be nearly impossible for officials to doctor the results.

“I think it would take so many people involved in the election process to make a change or do something nefarious that youâÄôd need to have a whole bunch of people in on it,” Corbid said. “And thatâÄôs not likely to occur.”

As Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith noted, there are between 10 and 12 election judges at each polling place to ensure voting guidelines are being followed. The parties also have their own observers on site to monitor polling place activity.

To carry out any Election Day funny business, conspiring election judges would have to do their collaborative dirty work under the watchful eye of party election hawks and their peers.

Additionally, ballots from each polling place are sealed and kept in a locked container, Smith said. In some cases, party observers actually follow election judges to City Hall where ballots are dropped off.

If this isnâÄôt enough to satisfy the truest of conspiracy theorists, Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky said election documents and precinct voter rosters are available to anyone wishing to check the results for themselves.

“You probably can trust all of us, but you donâÄôt have to,” Mansky said. “Our system is not based on trust. Our system is based on the ability to independently verify everything.”

Manksy said he expects each campaign will go through the records and match the names on ballots with those on voter rosters. Both paper ballots and electronic records are kept and are reconciled with one another.

Meanwhile, Sutton has vowed to leave no stone unturned in his crusade to question the integrity of the election results.

Republican lawyers have requested a smorgasbord of election documents from Minnesota counties. On Friday, EmmerâÄôs campaign filed a lawsuit against St. Louis and Pine Counties for not promptly providing the litany of requested documents, including machine tape results, copies of voter registration applications, voucher forms and names and addresses of people who applied for absentee ballots, according to court documents.

In an e-mail, Gary Eckenberg, deputy St. Louis County administrator, told GOP lawyers that the requests would be fulfilled within 14 days.

To put the extent of the requests in perspective, the Star Tribune reported that Washington County officials estimated they would need to photocopy approximately 30,000 documents to fulfill requests filed under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Corbid said most counties outside of the metro area have only three or four full-time election staffers.

While Sutton has accused county officials of dragging their feet, the reality is they are simply understaffed. Filing a lawsuit gives the appearance of wrongdoing when in fact there may be none.

Conservative groups like Minnesota Majority, which offered $500 to anyone who turned in a fraudulent voter this election, portray illegal voting as a bigger problem than it actually is. Mansky said in the 26 years he has been working on MinnesotaâÄôs elections he has never seen widespread, concerted efforts to promote fraudulent voting.

“I donâÄôt have, and never have had, the impression that there is any organized or systemic activity to violate either our voter registration laws or our voting laws,” Mansky said.

Republican lawyer Fritz Knaack agrees. Knaack, who worked on behalf of Norm Coleman during the 2008 recount, said the most common forms of illegal voting occur when students forget they already voted absentee and try to vote again on Election Day and when convicted felons donâÄôt realize their voting rights have been restricted.

“Eventually you get found out,” Knaack said. “If you learn anything in the system itâÄôs transparent, it is remarkably thorough and there is very, very little room for that kind of mistake.”

Fraudulent voting should be taken seriously and should be prosecuted when done intentionally. However, concern for minimizing illegal voting should not turn into hysteria. It is not prevalent enough to affect the outcome of this yearâÄôs gubernatorial election.

As the recount moves forward, Minnesotans should feel confident in the stateâÄôs elections process and know that the rightful candidate will be seated.

“One of the things we learned in 2008 is the fact that it really is a good system,” Knaack said. “I think we do this just about as well as anybody does.”


Michael Rietmulder welcomes comments
at [email protected].