Embrace broad, genuine election reformOn Oct. 28, the president signed a law mandating that states give military voters at least 45 days before an election in which to submit their absentee ballots.
By: By Kent Kaiser, St. Paul, The Republican Eagle
On Oct. 28, the president signed a law mandating that states give military voters at least 45 days before an election in which to submit their absentee ballots. As such, it looks as if this measure will force the Minnesota Legislature finally to move the state primary to an earlier date.
People from across the political spectrum have been advocating this change for years.
Whereas a short absentee voting window is obviously detrimental to voter participation in general, the voters most notably ill served are Minnesotans serving in the military.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there were about 23,000 overseas military members and dependents eligible to vote in Minnesota in 2008. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, only 14.4 percent were able to cast votes that counted in the presidential election.
To make matters worse, Minnesota state data indicate that local election officials were 16 times more likely to reject military absentee ballots than they were to reject other absentee ballots, and most of these ballots were rejected because they were returned after Election Day.
Many potential military absentee voters actually received their absentee ballots after Election Day. This is shameful.
As long as they’re at it, legislators should do more than the minimum to comply with the new mandate. They should consider extending the absentee voting window as long as 90 days, from the current mere 30 days.
Also as long as they’re at it, legislators should enact other measures to improve our state’s absentee voting system — measures whose need for all absentee voters became glaringly apparent during the recount that took place after the 2008 U.S. Senate election and which a recent investigative report by Twin Cities TV news station KSTP uncovered. Needed reforms include the following:
· Institute a centralized process for administering military absentee ballots.
Military absentee ballots are an anomaly for many local election officials and present challenges that regular absentee ballots do not. Administering them requires some specialized knowledge. The process of administering them should be streamlined to serve military voters better. The Secretary of State’s Office is already equipped to do this.
· Institute systems of barcoding and central processing of absentee ballots.
This would allow election administrators to track the timing of sending and receiving absentee ballots, to track acceptance and rejection of absentee ballots (including specific reasons for rejection, where applicable), to report absentee ballot statistics after each election, and to identify more readily where problems exist in the absentee ballot process.
Having county-level absentee ballot boards process absentee ballots would reduce variances and deviations that currently occur in the acceptance and rejection standards when administered by polling place workers who often have already worked long hours by the time, on election night, when they are looking at and processing absentee ballots for the first time.
· Institute “no-excuse” absentee voting.
Currently, Minnesota law allows absentee voting supposedly only for people who claim one of the following reasons for needing an absentee ballot: absence from their precinct on Election Day, illness or disability, service as a polling place worker in another precinct, religious observance, or eligible emergency declared by the governor or quarantine declared by the government.
This law is unenforced and unenforceable. Nevertheless, citizens do not necessarily recognize this fact and may be deterred from voting.
The law should be changed to allow absentee voting without an excuse. Moreover, a no-excuse absentee voting system would be superior to the various “early voting” schemes that some people have suggested, mainly because early voting schemes do not allow voters to change their minds and re-vote like absentee voting does. (Voters change their minds far more often than many people recognize, and not just in extreme instances like the death of a candidate in a plane crash.)
These are just four recommendations from a report on election reform entitled “No Longer a National Model: 15 Recommendations for Fixing Minnesota Election Law and Practice,” issued by the Minneapolis-based think tank Center of the American Experiment. The full report, which includes election reform recommendations in the broad categories of general election operations, absentee voting, and recounts, is available at www.americanexperiment.org or by calling (612) 338-3605.
Kent Kaiser is a senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment. He served in the administrations of Minnesota Secretaries of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, and Mark Ritchie, a Democrat.