Ritchie: Visual Verification Of Voters Possible This Fall

Click photo to hear how a felon voting for Norm Coleman in 2008 led to a new "visual verification" proposal at the polls

After the 2008 election Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie spent months recounting the votes. An incident uncovered in that famous recount has generated an idea to change voter verification that potentially could gain bipartisan support.

In 2008, it was discovered that a newly released felon had voted for Republican Senator Norm Coleman in a race that he ended up losing by just a few hundred votes. The felon’s vote counted, but he shouldn’t have been allowed to vote until his voting rights were restored.

Ritchie explains how that discovery sparked a bipartisan panel that reviewed Minnesota’s election process to suggest the state use “visual voter verification.” Unlike the voter photo ID constitutional amendment being pushed by Republicans, visual voter verification would prevent felons from voting and puts the onus on the government to have someone’s picture, cutting down the chances of voters being disenfranchised for losing their photo ID or not having one in the first place.

GOP backed proposal involves provisional ballots which could be expensive, time consuming and disenfranchise many voters.

The constitutional amendment requiring photo ID cards for all voters is essentially the same as the bill last session that was vetoed by Governor Dayton. A proposed amendment bypasses the governor and puts the issue on the state ballot.

This issue has produced vigorous reaction on both sides of the issue. Proponents claim this is needed to prevent alleged but largely unproven voter fraud in elections. Opponents argue this is a big change for a minor problem and it stands to disenfranchise a number of Minnesota voters, perhaps as many as 500,000.

Counts vary but it is estimated that fewer than 50 people voted illegally in the last election and photo ID would not have prevented their action.

The amendment creates a huge new expensive system of provisional balloting for all who do not have a state issued photo ID and it becomes a new version of the outlawed poll tax system. Provisional ballots would not be counted (if counted at all) in the days following an election. That means that the final result of all races would not be known until this process is complete.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has proposed and electronic system that grew out of a bi-partisan commission appointed by Governor Dayton last year. This proposal has been cheered by many election officials as not only providing accurate voter identification at the polling place but to have many other cost saving benefits in registration, voter record update and administrative operations. It would not disenfranchise any voters. It utilizes current technology and could be in place for the 2008 election.

The implementation cost would be minimal; the photo ID amendment costs are not known, the proposal leaves implementation, “Up to some future legislature.” Cost estimates range from $30 million to $50 million.

Ritchie points out that the proposed amendment locks the state into obsolete technology. Any change as a result of new technology would require another constitutional amendment and it also commits the state to forever supply free photo IDs.
Proposed Electronic System:
1. Each polling place would have a laptop computer with the information currently on the voter registration roster and a photograph from voters’ driver’s license or state ID cars. Plus any disqualifying information. The voter signs a signature pad affirming the voter’s oath currently on the printed roster.
2. If the voter is not on file or if address or name has changed, they create a new registration just as they do now, producing the specified documentation. The election judge would take a digital photo which would become part of the permanent voter record.
3. Post election voter record posting, currently an expensive clerical task, would be done by the computers.
4. It could be implemented in 2012 with minimum cost.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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