Possible Solution To Voter Photo ID Deadlock

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is advocating a more secure voting system that potentially could please both sides of the voter photo ID debate.

Republicans want to require Minnesotans to present a photo ID at the polls before they can vote.

Democratic Farmer Laborites say that would discourage people who don’t have a photo ID from voting — many of whom are poor, elderly and/or disabled.

Electronic poll books provide the photo identification of voters that Republicans seek without putting the onus of getting a photo ID on the voters as DFLers despise. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie sees it as a possible bipartisan solution to the issue.

Minnesota made and more secure and less costly than voter photo ID proposal.

During a Senate hearing on Friday, Ritchie described the electronic poll books made by Datacard, a Minnesota company. Like photo ID, the system puts a photo of the potential voter in front of the election judge who can decide whether the person is who they say. But instead of the voter providing the ID, which could be forged, the photo is securely pulled up from Minnesota’s drivers license photo database. The poll book could be on paper or on a computer.

If a person isn’t in the photo database, the person could register and have a photo taken on the spot. Because voting twice in an election is a felony, it’s very unlikely someone would risk being photographed committing the crime.

“The thing that’s important for me is that, number one, it keeps Minnesota number one in terms of leadership in election administration,” Ritchie told a Senate committee. “And number two, it creates that standard of broad bi-partisan support which Representative Benson referred to and Governor Carlson and Pawlenty — all the Governors before — have talked about.”

Ritchie estimates such a system could be implemented in Minnesota for about $10 million. That’s about $30 million less than the estimated cost of a voter photo ID system advocated by Republicans last legislative session.

According to Ritchie, the electronic poll book system could also give people more flexibility for where and when they vote — even allowing you to vote in another county if you can’t make it home for election day. “So this technology (electronic poll book), not so much this (the paper), but would allow that person who doesn’t know you in Kittson County, but who could look at your picture and say ‘hey you’re pretty good looking’, you know because it’s five years old, and say we know your precinct and we can use our ballot printer to print out your exact ballot, finish your procedure and then mark in there that you have cast your ballot and go from there.”

Beth Fraser of the Secretary of State’s office emphasized that the out-of-precinct voting is primarily an option for early voting, and not on election day. “It won’t work on election day because we have more than 4,100 polling places and so having 41-hundred connected computers talking is problematic for a lot of reasons. I mean it’s a capacity issue. It’s also an issue of there are parts of the state that don’t have broadband, said Fraser. “But down the road, not this year, that would potentially be an option.”

Votes would still be made on paper, said Ritchie. “Having conducted a few recounts myself, the advantage of the public being able to see every single ballot ad nauseum is really important.” He said there is too much risk going to electronic balloting as some other states have. “We have been the target of large scale denial of service attacks and sequel injection hacking from China and other places on our business services side and it is a serious thing. I have very experienced computer staff and we have been put down four days in a row. …. the security we need now is way beyond the capacity of a tiny agency to provide.”

Earlier in the week, Fraser had mentioned the system during a Senate hearing on a voter photo ID constitutional amendment. Fraser said the way the amendment had been written, it could not take advantage of new technology such as electronic poll books. The amendment’s author, Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) said the legislature could decide what form of ID would be appropriate at the polls. However, the amendment puts the responsibility on the voter to have the ID.

According to Senator Teri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka ), the Republican House author of the voter photo ID constitutional amendment might support the electronic poll book proposal. “I was in a meeting where Representative (Mary) Kiffmeyer (R- Big Lake ) looked at it. She really likes the proposal. Does that mean she isn’t going to go forward with her proposal (for a constitutional amendment) as well? I don’t think so.”

Republicans are pushing for a voter photo ID constitutional amendment because last year Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, vetoed a similar proposal. When he vetoed the bill, he quoted former Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, who had vetoed election reform legislation because it only had the support of one party. Ritchie hopes this solution will get bipartisan support, which could cause Governor Dayton to put away his veto pen.

Related story: Senator Bonoff says electronic poll books should please skeptics of Minnesota’s voting system.

Below: transcript of video highlights of Senate hearing. Below that: complete video of Senate hearing.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie:
With the electronic poll books and other new technology we can bring into the polling place the photo identification procedure that people are asking for. The ability for the election judge to look either down at an electronic paper poll book which is very common
(we have a handout)
I would love to hand these out , if that would be OK with the… thank you.

Or an electronic poll book which some of our own states precincts and other states have been experimenting with thanks to companies like datacard.

But that procedure that Joe Mansky was talking about really has come a long ways because the price of technology has fallen dramatically and the price of memory has fallen dramatically and our ability to use electronic database of all kinds — department of public vehicles and others has really changed and the concept that we’re presenting briefly is the notion that we would use the official database of the department of vehicle services to bring the photographs that we have inside of our state’s official system, into our statewide voter registration system SVRS we sometimes call it. That photo then can be either printed on poll rosters or it can be displayed in an electronic poll book in the polling places , thank you very much, and that provides the opportunity for the poll worker to look up, identify the voter and then to continue with the procedure.

EDIT

As we think into the future, we don’t know how this technology will evolve . But what we know is that this approach allows us to be able to incorporate new technology going forward. If it’s the retina of the eye, if it’s whatever it might be having a system that puts the photograph into the polling place whether on paper, which is very inexpensive and if you wanted to put big pictures that some of our forest products representatives, lobbyists would come and testify strongly, or our electronic option which happens this one is made by a very successful Minnesota company and there are competitors and so there’s a good competition. However it might go forward, the thing that’s important for me is that number one it keeps Minnesota number one in terms of leadership in election administration. And number two it creates that standard of broad bi-partisan support which Representative Benson referred to and Governor Carlson and Pawlenty all the Governors before have talked about which is listening to what people want to see in our system, finding a way to achieve those goals within budget constraints and without disrupting systems that are working very well. Either for our townships or for our service men and women or whoever. And doing it in a way that people come forth with a kind of bipartisan support that helps us implement changes more rapidly, more effectively. Implementing a change like this on paper—pretty fast. Implementing a change on a poll book— I’ve been surprised at how smooth our conversations have gone, but obviously that’s more complicated than just paper.

But either of these options helps take us into the future and it helps give us the basis for a bipartisan approach and both of those things are the things that I feel are the most important to helping us move forward from a redesign point of view

EDIT
Senator John Carlson (R-Bemidji)
If we could design a system that verifies who we are and gives us the flexibility so I don’t have to do an absentee ballot or a mail-in ballot, but yet I can walk into a county court house, no matter what county I happen to be in and say here I am and today’s my day to vote and I want to vote but I can’t be home… could you…

EDIT
Ritchie
Without giving my staff a heart attack here on the spot, let me answer your question fist with a no because that’s what they want to hear. We haven’t though all that through, but with a very strong yes and let me say why I say yes. So this technology (electronic poll book), not so much this (the paper), but would allow that person who doesn’t know you in Kitson County, but who could look at your picture and say ‘hey you’re pretty good looking’, you know because it’s five years old, and say we know your precinct and we can use our ballot printer to print out your exact ballot, finish your procedure and then mark in there that you have cast your ballot and go from there.

EDIT
Beth Fraser, Secretary of State’s office
The idea of vote centers, that is an option. But it’s primarily an option for voting prior to election day. Voting early. Because that allows county auditors and some city clerks to be online, on the statewide voter registration systems, so they can immediately mark that you’ve come in and that you’ve voted. And it’s our system is set up to have to handle that sort of capacity of the 87 county auditors and some cities.

It won’t work on election day because we have more than 4,100 polling places and so having 41-hundred connected computers talking is problematic for a lot of reasons. I mean it’s a capacity issue. It’s also an issue of there are parts of the state that don’t have broadband. There are polling places where there literally bring in a generator and take out the tractor to bring in the, you know the voting booths. They are really little places that couldn’t have an online computer like that. So I think it’s primarily an option for early voting. But down the road, not this year, that would potentially be an option.

Ritchie: Mr. Chairman, Senator Carlson, I think in your earlier testimony there’s always the “yes we can and no we can’t” And let me tell you, yes we can.

Fraser: No we can’t
(Laughter)

EDIT
Ritchie: We have a law and we always have at least in my lifetime that we vote on paper and having conducted a few recounts myself the advantage of the public being able to see every single ballot ad nauseum is really important. I also will say here that we have been the target of large scale denial of service attacks and sequel injection hacking from China and other places on our business services side and it is a serious thing. I have very experienced computer staff and we have been put down four days in a row. One morning at 6:31 recently there were denial of service type attacks that were unbelievable and so I have my own concerns and thank goodness with the OET consolidation we are now moved our that part of our security…. the security we need now is way beyond the capacity of a tiny agency to provide. So I’m trying to be negative about the general thing. I’m just aware that the world is a dangerous place and I have a responsibility to take care of and so I like our system of paper ballots and having a ballot printer anywhere in the state that can pop up the ballot and print it is a little bit like we have now which is when we send our ballots overseas electronically, where ever you are you print it out, you fill it in, it comes back. We have excellent result with that. And occasionally it will creased or bent and you have to fool around with it and stuff, but basically I’m very happy with our current system.

EDIT
Carlson:
How would you allow a township to continue to do mail-in ballots and yet still provide the integrity of… how would you do that? I know my townships are looking for answers

EDIT
Fraser
We’re not imagining that mail balloting would change very much. You know right now mail balloting is only used in small jurisdictions, those with fewer than 400 registered voters and with that process ballots are mailed, non-forwardable mail to registered voters and you know the voter fills it out and then mails it back in. So we’re not imagining that process would change very much.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek.

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