Secretary of State Mark Ritchie outlined a long legislative 'wish-list' at a press conference Wednesday morning to improve the state's electoral process:
· Permitting early voting of 15, 30, or even 45 days before an election to alleviate the burden of absentee ballots on local officials.
· Requiring a narrower margin of victory for statewide elections (one-quarter of one percent, instead of the current margin of one-half of one percent) as well as requiring a candidate to make a recount request to trigger the recount process.
· Instituting a '21st Century voter registration system', including online registration, to reduce costs, improve service to voters, and improve the integrity and security of Minnesota's electoral system.
· Moving the state's September primary election to earlier in the year - perhaps to June or August - in order to insure absentee general election ballots can get sent overseas in time to those in the military, especially in time-compressed instances where a primary election results in a recount.
Missing from Ritichie's agenda, however, was any desire for voter ID requirements. Voter ID has become one of the more high-profile issues at the Capitol this session, and is a signature issue of Republican legislator Tom Emmer (19B-Delano).
Rep. Emmer has asked Ritichie to testify before the State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee on Thursday morning when the Voter Integrity Act of 2009 legislation will be on the table. Emmer co-authored the Act with fellow Republican Representative and former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer (16B-Big Lake).
During his press conference on Wednesday, Ritchie was very cool to the idea of voter IDs:
"I'm very interested to hear if there are any new arguments for this, but it's been debated every year and even the Bush administration says this would be a very bad thing for our senior citizens. We've got 140,000 people, almost all senior citizens, without IDs.
Secretary Ritchie even went so far as to say that there is no need for the Act's requirements of a state-issued photo ID because his research has not found a documented instance of such voter fraud in the history of the state:
"The only argument that's ever made is that this would prevent voter impersonation and I've looked through 150 years of Minnesota voting history and haven't found one case.
Minnesota politics is a far cry from Chicago politics, to be sure, but, one has to wonder, is the integrity of the state's voting system this clean?
Kiffmeyer was in attendance at Ritchie's press conference, and Smart Politics asked her how she and her caucus would use the overwhelming public support for voter IDs in Minnesota to leverage the issue in the House to get the bill out of committee for a floor vote:
"They won't let it come to vote because they know there is that groundswell. So that makes you kind of wonder sometimes, why are they stopping it, you know? Because the reality is that it is constitutional, the Supreme Court ruled it Constitutional...I think the question to be asked is, 'What are you afraid of?'
Ritchie intimated that cost is one reason against adopting the Act.
"We have now determined how much that the proposals that are floating will cost. And it is millions for all the people, the locals, the state, everybody involved.
Kiffmeyer, however, stated the cost to the state would not be an issue, and that, while she was Secretary of State, she was "Willing to absorb the cost of it into my office with the free ID.
With approximately three-quarters of Minnesotans in favor of voter ID, Smart Politics can only deduce there must be strategic, political reasons why the DFL and Mark Ritchie do not want such legislation passed.
As for what those strategic reasons might be, perhaps Kiffmeyer will get an answer to her question on Thursday morning.