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Summary of Meeting with Mark Ritchie
8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 30, 2007
Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State
Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and Jim Olson (by phone)
Context of the meeting
--The Civic Caucus has
been reviewing various aspects of elections and election law as part of an
inquiry into the question of polarization and paralysis in state
government. Today we're meeting with the state's chief elections
officer, Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State.
Welcome and introduction
welcomed Ritchie and introduced him to the Civic Caucus. Ritchie, a DFLer,
was elected Minnesota Secretary of State in November 2006. Immediately
preceding his running for office, Ritchie had been leading National Voice,
a coalition of more than 1,000 organizations across the nation working to
increase participation in elections. Previously he had served, from 1986
to 2005, as president of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture
and Trade Policy that fosters long-term sustainability for Minnesota's
rural communities. He has been a resident of Minneapolis for more than 25
Comments and discussion
Ritchie's remarks and discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Importance of relationships
--Taking note of the Civic Caucus concern for polarization and
paralysis, Ritchie cited the book Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns
Goodwin. Goodwin profiles five of the key players in her book, four of
whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and all of
whom later worked together in Lincoln's cabinet. The importance of
maintaining respect and personal relationships is a key aspect of gaining
consensus among political adversaries, he said.
2. "Multi-partisan", not
"bi-partisan" --Ritchie said he is distressed because so little
attention is given to smaller parties, like the Green Party, the
Libertarian Party, and the Constitution Party, by the media, civic
organizations and others in Minnesota. He believes the term
"bi-partisan" is biased in favor of the two major parties, the Democrats
The Secretary of State is administratively responsible for
handling filings for some offices. Ritchie said the filing process is
biased against smaller parties and independent candidates not affiliated
with any official party. State law provides a very narrow window for
candidates from smaller parties and independents to get signatures to get
on the ballot.
The negative treatment of minority parties extends to the
media, in terms of who gets coverage, and to civic organizations, in terms
of who gets invited to campaign meetings, he said. It is hard enough to
run for office, Ritchie said, considering the time and financial
investment required. The Secretary of State will try to make access to
the ballot equitable for all parties.
3. Why elect the Secretary of
State? --In response to a question Ritchie said that in some
states the chief elections officer is appointed by the Governor, which
creates many opportunities to politicize the office.
4. Secretary of State is not a
"lower ticket" office --The media, civic organizations, and the
political parties themselves view the offices of Secretary of State and
State Auditor as "lower ticket", and not worth the attention of other
statewide offices, Ritchie said. In 1858, when Minnesota became a state,
the office of Secretary of State was the second most important office,
behind that of Governor.
5. Service by 10,000 people who
run elections in
said the elections officers of the 87 counties, plus the city clerks,
township officials, and volunteers who service polling places have done a
good job of producing fair elections in Minnesota.
6. Legislative program of the
Minnesota Secretary of State --Ritchie said his office has
submitted a multi-part program to the 2007 Legislature, including:
a. Help for overseas
voting --Ritchie is supporting moving the date of the state
primary up from September to make it possible for ballots to get in the
hands of Minnesota residents who are overseas and to return those ballots
by election day in November. Ritchie said this problem is serious for
Minnesotans in the armed services. Later in the meeting he agreed that
the problem also is present for an even larger number of Minnesotans who
are in various types of civilian positions overseas, too.
Ritchie acknowledged that many elected
officeholders in the state are opposed to moving the date of the state
primary as early as June. It would only be necessary to advance the date
to August to provide enough time to get ballots in the hands of overseas
voters, he said.
One of the proposed changes would allow ballots to
be sent by email to people overseas. Regular mail would be necessary for
return of the ballots. Also he is working for what is known as the
"submarine" ballot, giving people who are going to be out of the country
on Election Day to write the name of their favored candidate even before
primary results are certified. This is currently used in federal
elections and would be used for state elections as well under this
b. Changes in voter
registration --Nearly 600,000 persons now swamp election
officials by registering on presidential election days, Ritchie said. He
is supporting changes recommended by county election officers to
facilitate registration in other ways. For example, under current law a
registered voter must re-register upon changing an address. A proposed
law change would automatically update a person's voter registration when a
change of address is submitted to the United States Postal Service (USPS).
A second proposed change involves allowing persons
to be automatically registered to vote when they receive driversí licenses
or state IDs, unless someone specifically asks not to be registered to
Ritchie also is proposing a study of using the
internet for voter registration.
c. Allowing all
citizens to serve as election judges --Currently, election
judges must declare their affiliation to one of the three major parties.
Under the proposal, persons would not need to be affiliated with political
parties to be eligible to serve.
7. Avoiding fraud
--In response to a question about avoiding fraud in using USPS address
changes, Ritchie said the USPS has its own enforcers; the Minnesota
Secretary of State would send a non-forwardable post card to verify an
address; all subsequent communication would be with that new address and
anyone who committed fraud would be subject to felony prosecution.
Jim Olson, a resident of Illinois, suggested that people who
register on Election Day have a purple mark placed on a finger to keep
them from voting in more than one precinct.
Asked how names of the deceased are removed from election
rolls, Ritchie said counties maintain the lists and keep track of deaths
with data provided by the State Department of Health. Also a person
failing to vote in two election cycles is automatically removed.
Moreover, he said, family members take the initiative to remove names of
loved ones who have died, because they are hurt by receiving mail
addressed to the deceased.
8. Encouraging young people to
vote --Ritchie acknowledged that an ongoing problem--even in
Minnesota and despite its high vote turnout--is that young people vote in
very low numbers. For some reason many young people believe the system
is rigged against them. We need to eliminate barriers to voting and we
need to address the matter of civics education. Civics education is
said. Often it isn't offered in some high schools until after many of
the kids have dropped out. Ritchie is conducting a roundtable discussion
on civics education from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 2, at the
office of the Minnesota State Retirement Systems, 60 Empire Drive, St.
Paul. The meeting is free and open to the public.
9. Potential of vote-by-mail
--In July 2006 a special election for a county commissioner race using
vote-by-mail took place in Blue Earth County, MN. Turnout was 53 percent,
twice the turnout of a regular special election, according to the
Mankato Free Press.
Current state law allows cities that have precincts with less
than 50 registered voters to use mail-in ballots. Townships and some small
cities are allowed to mail ballots to areas with 400 or fewer registered
Ritchie cited another example, Kittson County, in far
northwestern Minnesota, where voter turnout had been falling in recent
years, partly because of an aging population, coupled with long distances
to the polling places. An experiment in mail-in voting brought the
percentage up towards 100 percent again.
Interestingly, Ritchie said, not everyone is excited about
getting large turnouts, particularly at special elections for school
referendums, because of a possibility that an increase in voters will turn
out people who will vote against the referendums.
Jim Olson pointed out that that it is increasingly difficult
to recruit people to serve as election judges. Voting by mail reduces
the need for election judges, he said. Ritchie noted an extensive use of
voting by mail in Oregon,
with ability to vote "absentee" without needing to be absent from the city
on Election Day.
10. Potential of a presidential
election by popular vote --Jim
Hetland highlighted an article in National Civic Review, Spring
2007, "Reforming the Electoral College with Interstate Compacts," by
Robert Richie (No relation. Name spelled differently). Richie points
out the concentration of the presidential campaign in a handful of
battleground states, and notes the substantially lower voter turnout among
youth in the non-battleground states. Richie points out that "voting
behavior of most citizens is established for life during their first three
or four elections...", and that "a sharp difference in turnout according
to where one lives could all too easily continue for the rest of this
The article points out that states already have exclusive
power over how to choose their electors. Today most states allocate
voters to the statewide vote winner, but, according to the article, "they
could just as easily allocate them to the national vote winner."
A national effort is under way, according to the article, to
encourage state legislatures to enter into binding interstate compacts to
allocate their electoral votes to the national winner, with such compacts
becoming effective when states representing a majority of Americans and a
majority of the Electoral College did so. "With a national popular vote,
...every part of every state would be equal," according to the article.
For detailed information on the status of the National Popular
Vote plan, click on http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/index.php.
Ritchie said he has just read the article himself. He is
studying the issue. He is personally very concerned with the large
number of negative campaign advertising.
11. A presidential primary for
said he favors a plan offered by the national organization of secretaries
of state for having regional primaries across the nation, with the dates
for each primary varying every four years.
12. "Voting centers" versus
precinct polling places --Jim Hetland asked about the potential
of allowing people to have a choice of voting at one of several voting
centers, not just at the polling place for the precinct in which they
live. Ritchie mentioned experiments in Colorado.
Larimer County, Colorado conducted successful elections using vote centers
in 2003 and 2004, reducing the number of polling places from 143 precinct
polling places to 22 vote centers, each linked with a computerized voter
registration list to prevent voters from being able to cast votes at
multiple vote centers on
election day. An experiment in Denver in 2006 apparently was less
13. Issues of voter
"registration" --Ritchie said that historically voter
registration was created to be a barrier to keep some classes of people
from voting. He noted that North Dakota
still doesn't require any voter registration. Minnesota, of course,
allows eligible citizens to register to vote on Election Day at the
14. Redistricting commission?
--Asked about changing the method of drawing congressional and
legislative districts, Ritchie said that as Secretary of State he leaves
that up to the Legislature.
15. Selection of judges
--Referring to the meeting the Civic Caucus had last week with former
Gov. Al Quie, Ritchie declined to comment on the specific proposal, but he
believes that selection of judges should not become subject to partisan
politics. He is very concerned with national developments that are
placing the judiciary under assault.
16. Instant runoff voting
--Ritchie said he is working to help IRV get implemented in his home
town of Minneapolis and will be convening a task force this year to
develop some guidelines and suggestions for other communities considering
this for their own elections, like St. Paul.
17. Precinct caucuses
-He did not offer any suggestions for change.
18. Thank you.
--Members of the Civic Caucus thanked Ritchie for meeting with us this
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.