Secretary of State

by Brian Kushida

.Mary Kiffmeyer, Republican, incumbent

What is the importance of the secretary of state’s office?

No. 1 is elections, No. 2 is business services and then a tremendous amount of record-keeping on behalf of the state.

To me, it’s to be not only the chief election official but the chief encourager of people to be involved in the process, communicating election information and being of service to everybody in this state – which, by the way, is 87 counties, very diverse – and getting that information to them, so you need many tools Ö for some it’s paper, for some it’s the Web site.

What experience of yours makes you the best choice?

Well, first of all, I’ve had eight years of experience. I have a proven record. When I took office, the Web site was a big picture and in six months, and ever since then, (we) redesigned it, improved it, and it is now an award-winning, grade-A (Web site) Ö used by teachers and everybody across the state.

It is now a vibrant, current, interactive tool. It wasn’t that way when I took office. So I have a proven track record of getting those things done; they don’t happen by accident, they take effort. We in-source, we write all of our own software for use not only on the Web site but to support the programs as well.

So I think that’s a proven record in technology. Since I took office, in those eight years, I have (had) an average voter turnout of a little more (than) 70 percent on those general elections. Those previous to me were below that.

The 18- to 24-year-olds had a 42 percent voter turnout in 1998 Ö (in) 2004, it’s up to 63 percent.

It has been a very challenging eight years, not only for me but for everybody involved in an election system in the state.

I’ve also developed many more resources for voters that, again, didn’t exist. This isn’t something like I just improved them – there were no voter brochures when I took office like we have now, trifolds or quadrifolds. We have 20 of them now.

What’s the first change you would make in office?

I think probably one of the first things I would do is move the primary to August so that we can have more time for the voters (and) for the local election administrators.

Once again, working on the online voter’s guide, working on setting up the program, working on the safe at home program. Those three things will be at the top of my agenda to work on.

How would you increase young-voter turnout?

We’ve made tremendous strides, you know, 42 (percent) to 63 (percent) is great and I think that’s going to go up again this year, I really do. And I think the main thing is that the young people really use the technology, they really enjoy that a lot.

And so an online voter’s guide would be especially helpful to the young people.

The one thing that I would like to do next year would be there’s a statute about 16- and 17-year-olds being election judge trainees, so I would really focus on making that a full-use program to try and get some college student interns.

The teens get all the training to be an election judge Ö and their friends want to know about voter registration, then they could say, “Well, I helped work the same voter registration, I know how to do that. Here’s what you need to do.”

Mark Ritchie, DFL

What is the importance of the secretary of state’s office?

The secretary of state works with local election officials and civic organizations to conduct all of our elections in the state of Minnesota. In this role, the office has a great impact on the support and interest and participation by Minnesota citizens in our elections.

In addition to the job as the chief elections officer, the secretary of state oversees a staff providing important business services and sits on the four-person board setting the directions for the investments of the state, nearly $50 billion in surplus funds.

What experience of yours makes you the best choice?

Three things: first, being a leader in a state government agency under a previous administration, I know how state government works and how agencies operate, and how to make them as efficient and as customer-friendly as possible.

The second is having run large agencies and organizations Ö managing the personnel and budget and all the things it takes to administer the office, and then inspiring staff to provide excellent service and excellent performance as a whole team.

The third thing is a couple decades of leading voter registration and civic engagement campaigns – including the Nov. 2 campaign, which was the largest in U.S. history – Ö aimed at making it possible for the most number of citizens to participate and to increase the trust and integrity of our election by Ö involving citizens in the process.

What’s the first change you would make in office?

The elections division historically was always staffed by nonpartisan, professional election experts. Under the current administration, the nonpartisan professionals have been replaced by political appointees, friends and political allies of the secretary.

I would go back to the historical standard of having the election division be staffed solely by civil service, nonpartisan election experts and professionals.

How would you improve young-voter turnout?

Three things: First, getting politicians and elected leaders to be talking about the issues that matter to young people, so young people feel like voting and participation will make a difference.

Second, the barriers that have been addressed through changes and law need to be torn down by implementing the laws. The current secretary has failed to make the changes that have been passed by the Legislature to enable and encourage young people to vote. We need to implement the laws, as passed by the legislature, immediately.

Some great ideas that we can see in other states include bringing voting machinery into high schools and colleges so they can get used to using that equipment, maybe for homecoming king or queen elections, that sort of thing.

In some states, like Hawaii, when you turn 16, you can pre-register so that you’re automatically in the system when you turn 18 Ö So that helps young people to participate.

Many young people are in the military Ö (where) it’s very difficult to get mail. (The office should eliminate) the barriers to our men and women in the service and in Peace Corps and students that are overseas, you know, making it easier.

Things that have been really specific: students are often working several part-time jobs and going to school or have some other activities. The current system of voting where people can take time off from work and vote often applies to people who have full-time jobs.

We need early voting, we need vote by mail, we need no-excuse absentee voting, we need vote centers like they use in Colorado Ö to make voting more convenient for a very busy and stressed voter, including, of course, young voters.

Joel Spoonheim, Independence

What is the importance of the secretary of state’s office?

The most important role they play is they are the chief elections official. We all remember what happened in Florida where people lost the right to vote because of rules set by a secretary of state who was not operating in a fair and nonpartisan way.

As an Independent, I’d uphold the integrity of this office by not accepting endorsements or money from special interest groups or lobbyists and people who are in the business of swaying elections. My Democrat and Republican opponents do accept that money and that’s unfortunate, because I think it leads to distrust and unfairness of the office.

I think that, clearly, it’s important that we do more to increase voter turnout and what’s interesting is in most elections, like not presidential elections, we’re lucky to have 15 to 20 percent of people vote. That’s lower than an F-minus if you think about percentages and I think we need to work hard to Ö get an A- grade.

What experience of yours makes you the best choice?

I’m truly free of the partisanship that the Democrats and Republican candidates are just immersed in deeply Ö people can really trust that when I say I’m going to make every vote count, that’s my commitment.

The second thing is: I have worked hard teaching young people how to be civic leaders and engaging citizens and small businesses in solving problems in communities with them. My whole success has been at getting people who don’t like each other and people who do like each other to sit down and solve problems and that’s because I’m not a partisan hack.

I think my expertise in getting folks involved in solving practical problems really matters here.

What’s the first change you would make in office?

The first change I would make is that I would be focusing on educating Minnesotans on how good the machinery of elections is as opposed to what is currently happening, which is telling people about these mysterious problems that actually don’t happen to exist in Minnesota.

They happen out of state. But then I would manage the office in a more effective way to train our election judges better. Our current secretary of state tends to get the information out there too late and if you talk with any county auditors, you’ll hear that, for example, some important training information was sent out the week before the primary this year.

Well most judges are trained in August, not in September. So it was too late. We need to make sure the office is managed fairly and efficiently.

How would you increase young-voter turnout?

You know, I’ve been working on that hard this year. I’ve been going to college campuses at all hours of the day, including the evening when students are hanging out.

The other thing that’s really important is that young voters are really cynical about politics. They just watch Democrats and Republicans fighting all the time and they think that their vote just won’t really make a difference.

We’re trying to create a positive experience of politics and of a party in politics, so running on an issues-based campaign is just really appealing to young people.

Another thing I would mention is that I am proposing that Ö we work with every campus in Minnesota to have a week-long voter registration drive so that every time a student walks into a classroom, every classroom, every professor, has voter registration cards for one week.

And so that way, students have no excuse, you know, it’s like it’ll be in their face for one week and you know you do that about the second or third week of school, after the first when all of the craziness of registering is done, then you’ll have a week-long drive and you just permeate the culture of every campus to make it a voter-registration week.