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of Meeting with Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, January 2,
speaker: Mark Ritchie,
Minnesota Secretary of State
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Dan Lortiz, and Jim
Olson (by phone)
Context of the meeting:
During several meetings over the past year or more the Civic Caucus has
been asking questions about the structure of elections in Minnesota. The
meeting today with Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State, will focus
on several of these questions.
Gladys Brooks death--Verne
noted the death this week of Gladys Brooks. Brooks was involved in a very
interesting election development in Minnesota in 1952. At that time
Minnesota conducted a presidential preference primary. Brooks was among a
group of Republicans who wanted Dwight Eisenhower to be nominated, not
Robert Taft or Harold Stassen, who were on the ballot. Brooks and a
number of others organized a write-in vote for Eisenhower--despite
Eisenhower's opposition. Stassen was also regarded as a stand-in for
Eisenhower. Stassen won first place in the state, followed by Eisenhower,
with his write-in votes, and with Taft in third place. Eisenhower carried
the Twin Cities metro area. Brooks became a Minnesota delegate to the
national Republican Convention. The Eisenhower write-in effort was seen
as a key action in his ultimate election as President.
Welcome and Introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Mark Ritchie,
Minnesota Secretary of State, who has been faithfully following Civic
Caucus activities from week to week. Ritchie 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 2,000 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
for more than 25 years.
Comments and discussion--During
Ritchie's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Constitutional basis for the State
Canvassing Board--Ritchie noted that the assignment for
declaring winners in state elections has been assigned to a special panel
since statehood in 1858. The state constitution originally assigned the
job to the House of Representatives. An amendment in 1877 provided for a
State Canvassing Board made up of two judges of the Supreme Court, two
district court judges, and the Secretary of State, which still is in
Minnesota is fortunate, he said, to have that body helps insure integrity
of elections. In most elections the Canvassing Board wraps up its job in
minutes. But in 2008, with a statute-mandated recount for the
Coleman-Franken race for U.S. Senate, it has taken almost two months for
the Board to certify a winner.
recount for presidential electors could hit impossible deadline--One
learning experience from the senatorial recount is that a recount in
Minnesota of votes for President could not be completed in time for the
federally-prescribed date (December 10) for the counting of presidential
electoral votes, Ritchie said. He called that situation a "fatal flaw" in
the rules for the electoral college. In a related matter, Ritchie
clarified that Minnesota electors are required to cast their votes
consistent with the popular vote winner in the state.
3. Increase in absentee voting--Between
2006 and 2008 the number of people voting absentee in
Minnesota was doubled,
Ritchie said, with overseas absentees increasing four-fold.
absentee approach needs updating--Minnesota's
procedures on absentee voting need to be updated, Ritchie said. For
example, a person voting absentee must indicate why from among very narrow
choices. Many other states allow absentee voting without giving a
reason. See: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legismgt/elect/absentearly.htm.
Many other states also allow early voting, which, according to the
National Conference of State Legislatures, "differs from absentee voting
in that voters may visit an election official’s office or, in some states,
other satellite voting locations, and cast a vote in person without
offering an excuse for not being able to vote on election day."
discussion it was noted that no one in
Minnesota checks up on
whether a person's reason for voting absentee is valid, so anyone can vote
absentee in the state by simply checking any reason. However, some
people's ballots are thrown out because they refuse to lie, and, according
to state law, without a reason being given, ballots are invalidated.
12,000 absentee ballots were thrown out, although the Canvassing Board
ruled that some were rejected improperly. Ultimately, about 900 of those
ballots were accepted for recount.
5. Move state primary back?--Ritchie
said that moving the primary date to August or earlier is a challenge,
even if it means that the state could get absentee ballots for the general
election distributed earlier. Many legislators don't want an earlier
primary, he said. Ritchie would favor an August date. State law requires
that absentee ballots be received by county election officials by election
day. It's not sufficient that absentee ballots be postmarked by then.
6. Other possible changes in election laws--In
addition to changing the rules on absentee voting and moving the date of
the state primary, Ritchie said other changes the Legislature might
--Clarifying the power of county canvassing boards
over wrongly rejected absentee ballots.
--Allowing on-the-spot corrections of absentee
--Expanding existing mail vote options (limited
now to cities with fewer than 400 population).
--Making some changes in training of election
--Improving public education for citizens.
7. Involving younger people as election judges?--A
Civic Caucus member observed that election judges seem to be mainly
retired individuals. Ritchie said that efforts are being made to recruit
16- and 17-year-olds, who can be trained as judges and, thereby, be
prepared for longer term service as judges. It would be helpful, he said,
if election day could be declared a service day in schools, because school
are widely used as polling places.
8. Wall Street Journal editorial
Civic Caucus member noted a Wall Street Journal editorial, December
31, 2008, that questioned certain aspects of recounts for a Washington
state governor's race in 2004, and also made mention of the
recount in 2008, and the fact that Ritchie was backed by ACORN, a
controversial voter-registration organization. Ritchie said he is puzzled
by the editorial because the chief elections officer in Washington, Sam
Reed, a Republican, is the Washington Secretary of State, is past
president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, and is
widely regarded as one of the most respected secretaries of state across
said he is focusing on
elections and won't be distracted by outside criticism. He said he's
even been subject to death threats.
9. Precinct caucuses and presidential
preference polls--Precinct caucus in
Minnesota were widely
confused with presidential preference primaries this year. It is
important to recognize, Ritchie said, that precinct caucuses are
organized, financed and run by political parties. The Minnesota Secretary
of State plays only an incidental role, required to inform voters of the
location of their caucuses and reporting the results. The Secretary of
State plays no role in the process by which the presidential preference
straw votes take place – that is up to the political parties. The state
provides no financing but does bear the cost of the publicity and caucus
night reporting via the Internet of the results.
said he believes that many voters don't understand the difference between
the precinct caucuses and the presidential preference polls. Thus last
February, the caucuses were overrun with voters who showed up, cast their
straw ballots, and left.
said that in response to a legislative request, he has estimated that a
presidential preference primary, similar to that in other states, would
cost the taxpayers between 3.5 and 5 million dollars, or about 25 cents
per voter per year.
National Association of Secretaries of State, of which he is a member, is
lobbying for a national system of regional primaries that would rotate in
time every four years.
of the location, time, and length of precinct caucuses, Ritchie said those
decisions can be made by the individual political parties, since the
caucuses, while open to the public, are political gatherings.
10. Whether top two primary election
vote-getters, regardless of party, should advance to the general election--A
Civic Caucus member noted that a proposal has surfaced recently by which
only two candidates (the top vote-getters) would advance from the primary
to the general election, irrespective of party. Such an approach would
guarantee that the general election winner would have a majority of
voters, because there'd not be more than two candidates for each office.
However, it also would mean that two top vote getters in the primary could
be from the same party. Ritchie said he's not familiar with this idea
being proposed in
11. Possibility of ranked choice voting--Asked
about ranked choice voting, more popularly known as Instant Runoff Voting
(IRV), Ritchie said he has supported the effort in
Minneapolis and looks
forward to seeing its results there. One should not expect that IRV is a
replacement for a recount, he said. We always need to anticipate the
possibility of close elections, which could be as likely with IRV as with
the existing system.
12. Support for changes in judicial selection--Ritchie
said he favors a new system for selection of judges as recommended by a
commission headed by former Gov. Al Quie. The Quie commission favors
merit-based appointment, with periodic retention elections, where voters
decide whether a sitting judge continues in office. Any replacement would
be named by the Governor in a merit-based appointment approach.
13. No position on changing redistricting
process--Ritchie says he takes no position on whether
legislative redistricting should continue to be a responsibility of the
Legislature or be shifted to a commission.
14. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Ritchie for meeting with us today.