Mark Ritchie’s blunder

The Secretary of State’s office takes a step backwards in effort to de-politicize.

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office will hopefully never reach the levels of notoriety that Katherine Harris brought to Florida’s or Kenneth Blackwell brought to Ohio’s, but we are disappointed that the office has taken a foolish and unnecessary step backwards in the effort to remove the political taint of recent years from its operations. Last week, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie admitted giving his re-election campaign a list of participants in the state’s nonpartisan “civic engagement” program, so they could be sent a newsletter from his campaign and asked for a contribution. Ritchie, who has admitted this was a mistake, deserves criticism for blurring the line between politician and nonpartisan election overseer, his charge as secretary of state.

In 2006, Ritchie made de-politicization of the secretary of state’s office a major campaign theme against his Republican opponent Mary Kiffmeyer, who he and other critics had accused of making it difficult for people to register to vote in Democratic-leaning areas and otherwise acting in a partisan manner. Some will recall Kiffmeyer’s attempt to prevent about 100 residents of Stadium Village-area apartments from voting because of insufficient address verification . (A judge overruled her decision that same day.)

While as political sins go Ritchie’s is decidedly of the venial variety, his actions here display an inconsistency that he of all people should be going out of his way to avoid. Ritchie noted that the list in question was public information and could be accessed and used by any political party or individual, but as secretary of state he is, and should be, held to a different standard, as the person more responsible than anyone else in the state to ensure fair elections.

We cannot overstate the importance of citizens in a democracy having confidence that their votes will be counted properly regardless of the political affiliation of whoever occupies the office that oversees elections. Secretary of State Ritchie’s attempts to restore that confidence have been undermined by these developments, and we hope that in the future, he will keep his dual roles as political figure and chief election official isolated from each other.