The governor recently signed the government appropriations bill enacting new voters’ rights legislation and changing the way Minnesotans have voted since the state’s birth.
Rural Minnesota discarded 16,000 votes in the 2000 presidential election because of ballot discrepancies resulting from the lack of adequate voting technology.
Currently the voting system allows the disabled, college students, low-income voters and other minority groups to slip through the counting cracks. The reformed system ensures every vote counts, said proponents of the legislation.
“I’m really pleased that the Legislature agreed with my goal,” said Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer.
Every voter has the right to access a ballot, vote in privacy, have his or her vote counted and trust in the integrity of the election system, Kiffmeyer said.
The new bill will allow military voters and college students studying abroad to fax their ballots to the United States rather than mail them.
Ballots will also have multiple languages on them to assist new citizens who speak other languages.
New technology will ensure blind or sight-impaired voters can vote in privacy without the aid of poll workers.
Kiffmeyer said the bill allocates $1.2 million to improve and homogenize voting equipment across the state.
The legislation will also create uniform procedures for recounts.
Passage of the Minnesota voters’ rights legislation coincides with a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report that called on the Justice Department to investigate voting rights abuses in the last presidential election.
According to the report, it is illegal to restrict voting opportunities for minorities, language minorities, persons with disabilities and the
elderly. For this reason, several states are examining their voters’ rights laws.
Members of the commission found black voters in Florida were 10 times more likely than other voters to have their ballots rejected.
The report said many areas with high black populations did not have adequate resources. Some polling places closed early or moved
The commission’s report also states unreliable information removed felons from voter registration, keeping some non-felons from voting.
Although college students and other first-time voters turned their registration applications in on time, some potential voters could not vote because of unprocessed applications.
“Coming from an African- American perspective, it just revealed that we really don’t have voting rights,” said Michael Pearson, a University student.
“Every citizen has the right to vote. When we get turned away, it shows we’re not viewed as citizens,” he said.
“It’s kind of like saying in a football game that if you lost, it wasn’t worth playing,” Kiffmeyer said of first-time voters in Minnesota who lack confidence in the election process. “You look back and say, ‘Did the ref call it as he should?’ I understand that, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get in there.”
Although he voted for Bush, chemical engineering senior Aaron Bartel said he still didn’t think it was fair that Gore got more votes but didn’t win.
“It was ridiculous,” Bartel said. “I was happy though.”
The Justice Department is currently investigating 12 claims of voting irregularities in Florida.
“You need to have integrity. Public confidence is so shaken right now, so integrity is really important now,” said Kiffmeyer. “I consider it a right of the citizen to know that their election has integrity.”
Latasha Webb covers state government and welcomes comments
at [email protected]