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of Meeting with Joseph Mansky
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, February 27,
speaker: Joseph Mansky,
Johnson, chair; Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by phone), Tim McDonald, Jim
Olson (by phone), Wayne Popham (by phone), and Clarence Shallbetter (by
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus has been looking for some time at a host of election-related
issues in Minnesota. Today we're exploring many of the same issues plus
learning more about the Franken-Coleman recount.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Joseph
Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager since 2001. Prior to
coming to Ramsey County, he was the manager of Governor Jesse Ventura’s
redistricting commission. He served 15 years on the elections staff of the
Minnesota secretary of state’s office, the last 11 years as state
elections director. Mansky is also a member of the Civic Caucus core
Comments and discussion--During
Mansky's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Good revision of election
contest law--Mansky recalled that when he worked for Secretary
of State Joan Growe the Legislature re-codified election laws including
the election contest law. The Coleman-Franken recount is working just as
was contemplated in the re-codification process, including the three-judge
panel. The process isn't fast, but it is rational, methodical, and
transparent, and Mansky believes it will produce a result that will be
credible to all concerned. He contends that Minnesota has the best
election administration in the nation. Our elections rely on 20,000
volunteers in 4,000 locations, involving some 2.9 million voters, of whom
about 10 percent cast their ballots before election day. Sometimes there
are complaints about long lines for voting, but in St. Paul, he said,
after 8:30 a.m. on election day last November the long lines had
2. Seat one candidate
conditionally?--One possible addition, Mansky said, is that
someone certified as the winner by the State Canvassing Board could be
conditionally seated pending a decision by the three-judge panel.
Currently, Minnesota is missing one-twelfth of its congressional
contingent. He acknowledged, however, that such a step might be
interpreted as giving undue favor to the certified winner. Another
possibility is to allow the Governor to make a provisional appointment, he
said, of someone other than either candidate.
3. Extremely close contest--The
current margin represents .0078 percent of the 2.9 million ballots cast.
He said the Minnesota elections system is extremely accurate, but not
sufficient to produce a final result on its own when the election is as
close as it is. Mansky said it is impossible for him to predict a winner
at this time. It all depends upon the results from absentee ballots that
were previously rejected but now may be accepted by the court. Fewer than
1,500 ballots will fall in this category.
4. Make the law line up with
absentee voters' desires--Currently, a person must select one
of four permissible reasons in applying for an absentee ballot. Simply
wanting an absentee ballot without giving a reason is prohibited.
However, no one checks up on the voter's reason, so a person can pick any
one of the four permissible reasons and receive an absentee ballot.
Some 300,000 persons voted absentee in the last election,
Mansky said, so with such substantial interest it makes sense to make it
easier for voters to vote early or absentee.
In some cities, particularly those with older residents, the
percentage of people wanting to vote before election day is much higher
than the statewide average of 10 percent, Mansky said. For example, in
Roseville the percentage was 17 percent.
A Civic Caucus member suggested that perhaps the concepts of
(a) the honor to be able to vote and (b) a sacrifice of time, if
necessary, should be given more credence than simply trying to make the
voting system line up with a voter's personal convenience.
5. Publicly identify early
voters--Mansky said that candidates and pollsters should know
who has voted early, so they can campaign or conduct polls accordingly.
Some persons oppose early voting, he said, because from a civics
standpoint they like the idea of everyone voting in a common place on a
single day. But such a limitation fails to recognize people's schedules
as well as their desire for convenience.
A Civic Caucus member inquired whether single-issue groups
might find it easier to offer rides to the polls for individuals likely to
support their candidates if the rides could be spread over many more days
than one main election day. Thus, under such assumptions, early voting
would favor the private interest over the public interest. Mansky
Early voting doesn't need to extend too far before election
day, he said. In St. Paul, he said, about 2/3 of the early voters come in
within four days of the election. Thus, he thinks early voting could be
limited to not more than eight days before the election.
6. Simplify verification of
voter applications--Requirements to compare voters' signatures
in verifying applications for an absentee ballot are inadequate, Mansky
said, because clerks are not handwriting experts and because peoples'
signatures vary so much from one time to the next. If we can open on-line
bank accounts without ever being seen by the bank, using identification
numbers, we should be able to provide better ways of verifying
individuals, he said.
7. ID card at polls not favored--Mansky
doesn't favor requiring that voters have identification cards in order to
vote at the polls. There's not a shred of evidence in the state that
identity fraud is a problem. Contact all 87 county attorneys over the
last 20 years and you'll find hardly one case.
8. Call a second election?--Mansky
is not excited about proposals to call for a runoff election in a very
close contest, such as Coleman-Franken. The turnout would likely be
reduced by one-third or more voters; the cost would be $5 million to $6
9. Change primary elections--If
authorized by the Legislature, the two top vote-getters in a primary
election, regardless of party, could be certified to run against each
other in the general election, thus removing the possibility of more than
two candidates per office in the general election, Mansky said. The
winner would thus have a majority of the vote.
10. Advance the date of the
primary--Given the rules on voting equipment and given the
interest in people voting early, a September primary is too late
administratively, Mansky said. Some persons would go as early as late
June. Mansky would be satisfied if the primary were in August. A Civic
Caucus member noted that some legislators don't like the prospect of a
June primary, because it might be too close to a legislative session
ending in late May. Mansky replied that the solution would be for the
Legislature to adjourn earlier.
With large numbers of candidates for Governor in 2010 likely
in one major party and possibly more, Mansky said that a June primary
would result in a longer campaign for the parties' nominated candidates,
instead of a long campaign within each party for the nomination itself.
11. Enact a presidential
preference primary--Mansky favors the idea of splitting the
precinct caucuses and the presidential preference primary by holding
preference primary during the day and the precinct caucus that same
evening at the same location. Individuals would need to declare their
party affiliation to vote in the presidential preference primary. Thus
only those who declare their party affiliation, not independent voters,
would be participating. More locations of the preference primaries and
precinct caucuses are needed. He recalled problems last year when several
precinct caucuses were held in the same building, producing huge traffic
jams. For a given precinct different political parties could hold their
precinct caucuses and presidential preference primaries in different parts
of the same building.
Mansky believes a broad cross-section of the political parties
would participate in both the presidential preference primaries and the
precinct caucuses, which is what occurred in 1992, the last year Minnesota
conduced an official presidential preference primary as distinguished from
the current informal straw vote. Minnesota has conducted presidential
preference primaries in 1916, 1952, 1956, and 1992. Dissatisfaction by
party leaders from the results of presidential preference primaries
produced the interruptions.
12. Apply Ranked Choice Voting
(Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in an open primary?--Mansky
indicated that IRV in an open primary with many candidates for the same
office might make sense, particularly if the major parties make multiple
endorsements. He thinks it might be worthwhile to authorize what is known
as "fusion", allowing individual candidates to be identified as being
endorsed by more than one party. In this connection Mansky also supports
the idea that more than one candidate for the same office could show
endorsement by the same party, if, for example, a candidate received a
threshold of support, say, 20 percent, at a party endorsement convention.
13. Review the recount process--When
the Coleman-Franken recount is completed, Mansky would like to review the
experience, perhaps after letting the process lie fallow over the summer.
Several issues could be examined, such as absentee voting, early voting,
filling a vacancy conditionally, early primary, and presidential
preference primary, he said.
14. Create a redistricting
commission--Mansky favors that congressional and legislative
redistricting in 2011 be carried out by a commission, not the
Legislature. The Legislature would be given three opportunities to vote a
commission's plan up or down, without changes. After a third rejection
the job would be given to the courts.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Mansky for meeting with us