Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is stepping down after two terms that have been filled with battles over voters rights — from recounting absentee ballots in the very close U.S. Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, to fighting back against a voter suppression “voter photo ID” constitutional amendment, to making Minnesota’s absentee balloting easier and “excuse free.” The lines that were drawn in those battles between Ritchie (a Democrat) and Republicans remain in place as Democrat Steve Simon takes on Republican Dan Severson. Simon promises to carry on and expand Ritchie’s work. Severson would like more restrictions on voting in the name of preventing “voter fraud.”
Monday, the Humphrey school at the University of Minnesota hosted a forum with the four candidates for secretary of state. Elections expert and Election Academy director Doug Chapin moderated the conversation with Severson, Simon, Libertarian candidate Bob Odden and Independence Party candidate Bob Helland.
Post debate interview & debate transcript
After the debate Dan Severson, Republican secretary of state candidate is asked about his assertions that voters in the military are not covered by Minnesota’s new “no excuse” absentee ballot law. Severson had said previously that military voters must give an excuse – something that the secretary of state’s office says he is wrong on.
Video below: Severson interview
Video at top:Full debate
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Debate transcript by Susan Maricle
DC = Doug Chapin, Moderator
BH = Bob Helland, Independence Party candidate
BO = Bob Odden, Libertarian Party candidate
DS = Dan Severson, Republican candidate
SS = Steve Simon, DFL candidate
Doug Chapin: Alright ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much. My name is Doug Chapin from the program for excellence in election administration here at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. I’d like to welcome all of you to today’s conversation between the four announced candidates for Minnesota Secretary of state. Ah for those of you who can’t see me because you’re listening on Minnesota Public Radio, from your left to your right, we have Dan Severson, the Republican, Bob Helland from the Independence Party, Steve Simon, DFL, and Bob Odden, from the Libertarian Party.
Ah I’m hoping that this will be a very content-rich and informational discussion about election administration issues ah involved in the Minnesota secretary of state’s race. This year just a couple of quick notes: on format we’re going to start with short opening statements from the four candidates. On then, we’re gonna go through a series of eight questions, pose two each to each of the four candidates. They’ll have an opportunity for a short response. Then each of the other candidates will have an opportunity for his response, with the initial speaker given a short followup as well.
Ah we’ll then have closing statements, and our goal is to have this entire conversation occur in something like 75 minutes. Ah a couple of requests. One, to those of you in the audience, I know these issues always stir lots of passion. If you would, please, hold your applause or exclamations of delight or horror, ah I would appreciate that. To the candidates, ah I’m reminded of the phrase that brevity is the very soul of wit, I’m hoping that all of you will strive to be exceedingly witty today. I do have my colleagues from the Humphrey School right down here in front to keep time. Ah please do try. Ah we’ve got ah sort of slowdown, minute at the end, and stop. Please try to respect that as much as possible so that we can give everybody an opportunity to ah speak.
Ah again thank all of you for coming. Ah this ah debate is being recorded by Minnesota Public Radio, and my understanding is that it will be available online for rebroadcast later this week. Ah so let’s go ahead and we’ll first start. Ah the first opening statement with Mr. Severson.
Don Severson: Well thank you so much for hosting this, for the Humphrey School. And I think this is a great opportunity to hear the voice of the candidates, I appreciate a little background on me, I grew up in central Minnesota, graduated from ah St. Cloud State University with a bachelor’s in physics, I got married to my beautiful wife Cathy Jo of 39 years, I have four kids and one granddaughter, they’re awesome. And I spent 22 years in the Navy, Navy Top Gun fighter pilot, had a great career, retired commander, and then got out, got into the private sector, worked in that, planted a patent dealing with vitametik diets, and then got into the political side, got asked to run for House of Representatives in 2002, we won that race, I ran four consecutive terms, in 2010 ran for Secretary of state, we narrowly lost that race.
And one of the things that got me engaged and that was the election’s process. Ah some of the things that I’ve worked on in this campaign, and my kind of hallmarks, are express lane voting, which I’m sure we’ll be talking about, where we give everybody an opportunity to ah get in line and vote. And then we’re talking about the election’s provisions for our military, which I’m very passionate about. Thank you.
Thank you. Bob Helland from the Independence Party.
Bob Helland: Bad start. (laughs) Well thank you for having me, it’s a real pleasure to be here. Thanks to my opponents for all being here. It’s the four of us in this race, and that’s an important thing. I’ve been pushing here as part of this campaign, y’know. Know all of your options.
So lemme go ahead and address the buffalo in the room, or the bison, I should say. I don’t say elephant because that’s representative of Mr. Severson’s party. But, I’m a little different looking candidate. I’m 29 years old, I have long hair and a beard, and there’s there’s a changing culture around our elections. And that’s something that I do want to address. We’re gonna be talking a lot about the policy of elections. But I like to break it down into four dimensions. We’ve got the legislation, we’ve got the administration, which is the true role of secretary of state, we have the judicial branch, that would litigate disputes and those types of things, but we also have a cultural component. And I think that’s something that I’m adding to this debate, I’m adding to this whole race, is that we’re raising the awareness of elections within our culture, as Minnesotans, and as Americans. So, hope you can appreciate y’know outside of the policy there’s things that we can all to do improve our democracy, to participate and I encourage you all to do so in these last 2 weeks that we have before the elections.
The other thing I wanna talk about is the role of secretary of state. I am going to respect the format and the theme of the debate with election policy, but that’s truly only a fraction of what the secretary of state does, so I wanted to mention that. If you read state statutes and do the counting there’s 2,065 instances of secretary of state in Minnesota statutes. About 500 of those pertain to the election statutes, and then the other 75% address many different areas, primarily the business services. I’ve been saying I’m the business service candidate in the race, and I think that’s important, so I want you to be aware of that also.
I’m currently a state employee, I’ve worked for the Department of Revenue for 5 years, and I’ve since left to another state agency, and I have a strong back background in technology that I think is critical for for the role of secretary of state, as Minnesota travels into the 21st Century. So, lookin for a very fun conversation here, and really do appreciate you all being here, and having me as well. Thank you so much!
DC: Thank you Bob. Steve Simon?
Steve Simon: Well I too want to thank the Humphrey School for sponsoring this forum. I think it’s a great public service, and I have to say it’s been great over the years in my time in the legislature, to come here and to work with many election experts and others on election laws in a bipartisan way, by the way, with Republican and DFL legislators behind closed doors, not out in the open, to get some really good reforms done. We’re doing that right here in this building. Ah so I want to thank the Humphrey School for that.
So, I’m running for secretary of state to put Minnesota’s interests above politics. And I think that means a couple of things, at least. First, it means electing a secretary of state who can and will be fair, impartial and nonpartisan when it comes to administering elections. Second, it means someone who will provide ah resources and information to the people of Minnesota, and third, it means someone who will always try to make it easier to vote for eligible voters, not harder to vote.
So a little bit about my background: as I mentioned, I’m in the state legislature, I’ve been for 10 years, I was elected in 2004 from Hopkins in St. Louis Park, which is the community where I grew up. Ah and I live there with my wife and our two children under two, which makes campaigning all the more interesting. Ah but since Day One in the Legislature, I’ve been passionate about, deeply involved in election law and policy. And part of that stems from my own background, which is not at all unique, because so many Minnesotans have a similar story. But I too have an immigrant story.
My great-grandparents came to this country from Poland and Lithuania. And to put it mildly, they were not treated well. They were oppressed, they were discriminated against, they did not have a voice, they did not have a say in how they were governed, and they certainly did not have a vote. And they came to this country, and to this state, and they ultimately got all three of those things. That is always worth remembering. And it is also worth remembering that the secretary of state’s office, at its best, is about protecting, preserving, defending, and yes, always strengthening, the right to vote. And I have done that in a bipartisan, even nonpartisan, way.
In the Legislature I’m responsible for the new vote by mail or No Excuses absentee voting law, which I spent seven years working on, and I hope that we’ll be discussing later on, very popular, promoted avidly by both political parties, er the Democrats and Republicans and all political parties I should say this year, online voter registration is something I also authored, as well as accommodations for overseas voters of many kinds, including overseas military.
So the secretary of state’s office is key, it is crucial, look no further than the contentious recounts of recent years to know that the stakes are really high with this particular office. The office is, at its best, about working together, about opening doors, about finding common ground and accommodation, it is not a place for a fire-breathing partisan or a table-pounding ideological warrior. It’s for someone who is going to be looking for solutions in a bipartisan way, and that’s what I think I offer. And that’s why I’d be honored to have everyone’s support for secretary of state. Thank you.
DC: Thank you. Mr. Bob Odden.
Bob Odden: Well hi! I’m the other Bob. An engineer, I graduated right here at this university. I was an idealist, ah I read lots of books on from written by liberals on how to fix the world’s problems. And do you know how they all ended those books? They they said “Well we don’t know how to fix the problems, we just gotta get the government to spend more of other people’s money.” Ah individuals need to be free from government in order to create. It was it was in those books. Ah but they didn’t – they just ignored it. They didn’t really say, I suppose maybe because it didn’t fit their worldview.
Ah creating is what people do best. That made me a Libertarian. Libertarians love freedom. Or liberty. And liberty is freedom tempered by human rights. I mean, how can anybody be against that? Ah who could as a Libertarian, I took an oath not to commit fraud and I hold others to that standard. Then I worked 30 years to protect and (unclear) in the public from a loss, injury and death. I prevented thousands of injuries, I saved hundreds of lives. I did this by leading. All systems, like the election process, have inherent problems. By analyzing data and viewing processes for their cause, working collaboratively with others on solutions, then implementing and following up on the recommendations to see that they’re actually achieved, that is what I did. That is an engineer.
To educate voters, I created my own public cable TV access show called The Libertarian Viewpoint. It’s seen in over a hundred cities. The show presents nongovernment solutions to problems.
The constitutional office of secretary of state requires the desire to follow the law, look for problems and solve them, the desire to educate voters, and leadership. I have demonstrated these qualities throughout my life. I am Bob Odden, and I thank you for attending this. Thank you.
DC: Thank you Mr. Odden. Since you had the last opening statement, you get the first question. Ah I’m going to follow up on something in your opening remarks, you talk about how ah a major tenet of the Libertarian ah platform is protection of individual rights, and in fact if if memory serves, the platform says something along the lines of ah “to the extent government exists, it should exist to protect individual rights.” To what extent do elections and election administration fit into that, given that elections are in many ways the mechanism by which individuals and individual voters both animate and control state government?
BO: Well first of all, if you want people to participate in elections, you gotta make sure that the election is open. Ah I can I can truly say for myself I have never ever been represented in my entire life by anyone in government who shares my philosophy. Ah I feel totally disenfranchised. Ah there is no diversity in government. Ah so I don’t ah with diversity, a thought: you can have ah, you can have it set up so that ah people are watching, people are looking, people with different viewpoints, to help make sure that the government is ah doing what it’s supposed to. Ah I believe that the, one of the biggest detriments to rights in this country is the Democrat and Republican parties. Ah, they control much, they control everything. They control what you can hear, what you can see. Ah that’s not right.
People need to hear ah not only the Libertarian viewpoint but the Green Party viewpoint, the Constitution Party, ah they need to know all these things that are going on. And with all these different viewpoints, it’s not like having the fox guarding the henhouse. And that’s what you have when Democrats and Republicans write the rules, and then enforce the rules. I guess we had a case with ah election ah misconduct or several, I guess a number of ah people in the Senate were found to be in collusion with donors to avoid having those donations made public. Ah that’s not right.
DC: Dan Severson? A response?
DS: Well I y’know, the beauty of America is participatory government. It’s the ability for each person to ah have the right and the duty to identify those leaders that they think best represent their voice. And ah it’s very interesting because when I lost in the last race by a narrow margin, we had won the greater Minnesota area but we had lost the inner city. And something that was delinquent in my strategies was ah reaching out to conservative votes that really represent ah y’know the constituency that I represent.
One out of four voters in the metro area are minority. In fact in 1990, 6% of Minnesota was ah ah a minority class. Ah in 2010, that grew to 17% and it’s growing rapidly. And so one of my goals at this point, at that point when I started, was to get into some of those communities and start a conversation. Start talking about who represents you? And how do you get a voice as a community that has just come to America in the new American process? And so that’s one of the things I’ve been working for the last 3 years, and it’s directly affecting how people vote in this next election. Thank you.
DC: Bob Helland?
BH: To paraphrase the question, it was asking how elections and their administration are a tool for protecting people’s rights. And I think that’s a great start for this entire conversation, and you’re gonna see me nodding my head a lot, because the other candidates are gonna be making great points.
Mr. Odden made a lot of great points about access and inclusion, those types of things. So when we’re talking about those rights, which which are we talking about? Most everyone will be talking about the access for voters, to make sure that if you’re eligible eligible to vote, that you have a path to get there. We also have to have rights for candidates to get access on the ballot. And we’ll be talking about that, I’m sure. But there’s also the cultural component, which Mr. Odden touched on, and including candidates in the debate and providing them fair fair representation in the media, and that’s I believe a right that you have to have information about the candidates that you’re able to vote for, and then have your vote counted. Thank you.
DC: Thank you. Steve Simon?
SS: Well, as to rights, I like to say this about this office and about elections: no matter what issue any of us care about the most, education, jobs, taxes, civil rights, environmental protection, doesn’t matter. All roads lead to the ballot box. And unless we have free, open, fair, honest, secure elections, we’re not gonna get very far on any of those issues.
But as to rights, you know, we have to treat voting rights like ah the precious resources they are. We can’t deplete them, we can’t ah impact them in a way that that hurts people and shuts people out, and 2 years ago we had a a fight about that in Minnesota. We had a photo ID constitutional amendment on the ballot, which the voters, I think, wisely rejected, in part because I think it went way way too far. It would have made Minnesota the worst state in the country. The most restrictive state in the country. It didn’t have exceptions in it for students, it didn’t have exceptions for overseas military, it didn’t have exceptions exceptions for seniors in assisted living or in nursing homes. I think Minnesota has a long and proud tradition of standing up for voting rights as by rejecting that constitutional amendment, and as by participating in the highest numbers in the country in our elections.
DC: Thank you. Mr. Odden? Followup?
BO: Ah, I don’t I don’t recall reading anything that was that restrictive about the Photo ID Ah, but it was rejected. And, the the problem with elections, if there is any problem, in with fraud, is that we don’t really identify the individual voting prior to the vote. Ah they go in, they vote, their votes are put in with everybody else, we can’t take it out once it’s put in, ah and then at that point ah y’know if they gave us wrong information or whatever, there is potentially fraud. And in this state it’s you have to prove that they did it intentionally.
DC: Thank you. Next question goes to Steve Simon. Ah Steve, you ah you ah have mentioned your support for the expanded use of absentee voting. You’ve also been on record as saying that you hope to bring Minnesota onto the roster states offering early voting ah for voters ah in this state. Given that early voting has become a flashpoint across the country, ah in courtrooms and legislatures, talk a little bit about what you would do as secretary of state on how you plan to address the potential objections to early voting in Minnesota?
SS: Sure. First let me say, as a preface to that question, that Minnesota has been number one in the country in voter participation for nine elections in a row. Nine in a row. And I think that’s for two reasons. One is cultural. If I can indulge in a little Garrison Keillor ethic here, we are above average, and we pat ourselves on the back for our culture here that rewards participation, but the second is more technical. It’s because over the years we have introduced policies, by the way Democrats and Republicans alike, on a bipartisan basis for the last few decades, to make voting easier. So I think we should go to straight-up early voting, 33 states have early voting. Red states have it, blue states have it. Every single state that surrounds Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin have it.
It’s distinct from No Excuses absentee in that your vote is cast and counted and processed that very day. So that gives people peace of mind and also has the advantage of cost savings. You’re right, it has been a flashpoint in other states. Usually and typically, because ah those who think it somehow disadvantages them politically seem to be seeking to curtail it – curtailing the number of days it can be offered, curtailing the hours it can be offered, curtailing the places that it can be offered. I would hope and expect, given our bipartisan culture over the decades in Minnesota, that if and when we have early voting which I predict we will, with a lot of elbow grease and work from legislators of all different parties, and policymakers from across the board, I predict that we will have it someday.
But it’s important that it be fair, it’s important that it be secure, and it’s important that we not mess around with it based on perceived political advantage or disadvantage. Just look over to Wisconsin, to our east, where ah y’know there are folks there, in charge of the state, that have sought I think pretty brazenly to curtail ah early voting when they think it advantages them politically, that is wrong. Minnesota has always rejected that harsh kind of partisanship. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it. So I’m for early voting as a way to empower Minnesotans further. We’ve done No Excuses absentee voting. That was my pride and joy and my passion for the past few years, very popular with all political parties in the state. That goes most of the way. But now I’d like to go all the way towards early voting. Voting is no longer in the 21st Century a one-shot deal. And we ought to, we oughta understand that and accommodate it.
DC: Bob Odden, a response?
BO: Well if you want to get more people voting, ah the best way to do that is provide more candidates. And provide more diversity on the ballot if you believe in diversity, then you’ll believe it on the ballot. Ah it’s more than just two parties. Ah I mean if you have all the same two parties, you know you can hardly expect to have high voter turnout. Ah it’s just like the choice between Pepsi and Coke. I mean, why can’t we have Dr. Pepper? Why can’t we have ah other flavors, ah Mountain Dew for instance?
To achieve that, we need to immediately end the need for minor party status. Ah, was it, I had to stand out on the street in order in the pouring rain in order to garner signatures to be on the ballot. Ah that shouldn’t have to be.
DC: Thank you. Dan Severson?
DS: Yeah. Thank you. For y’know for 22 years I served our country in defending the Constitution. Nonpartisan position. I can tell you that we had Democrats, Republicans, Independents, everybody served. Together. For one purpose. And that was to protect our country. And that’s in my heart in this whole process of voting, is to protect the vote and the right of the individual to have their voice heard in the government sphere. That’s why I’ve been working with the new American communities to say “You know what? Here. This is your government. You are Americans now. And this is your opportunity to have your voice heard, in fact not just your opportunity, but your responsibility.”
I think one of the challenges we face in Minnesota is the data issues, in terms of “is the data good?” Y’know I called the SVRS, the State Voter Registration System, this summer to do a scrub on it. And it, it was corrupt. We have some major problems. ERIC, that new program that’s being adopted now, has got some of the solutions to that. I would support early voting if I knew the data was secure. And ah that it was in a measured ah timeframe. Say two weeks before the actual election day.
DC: Thank you. Bob Helland?
BH: I certainly agree with Representative Simon in support of early voting, and I do commend his work on No Excuses absentee balloting and the online voter registration, those are huge acts for the state, and I think we we all owe him a debt of gratitude. Ah the questions for the executive branch are – what I want to bring to it is the philosophy that your vote is a choice, not an act. It shouldn’t be bound by your physical ability to do so, or some very narrow time constraint. So if we can get to the idea that the vote is a choice, and if you’re able to make that choice, we don’t want to limit you by ah time-based or physical restrictions.
To get to the question of how would I defend and support early voting, there’s two things that I think are critical: we need to demonstrate that we can fight the fraud, and we can do that through effective personnel, good technology and good partnerships. And we can also make the, make the claim that if everyone had the choice, and if everyone to choose and was eligible to do so did, what’s the problem? Thanks.
DC: Thank you. Steve Simon, followup?
SS: Thanks. I would just follow up by saying that this is an example of early voting as an example of giving everyday people more items on the menu, so to speak, by which they can cast their ballot. I I’ve said many times that when I was, for many years, carrying the legislation for the new No Excuses Absentee Voter law, I thought often of my dad.
He’s gonna be 81 in a couple of weeks, he has advanced Parkinson’s, he doesn’t drive anymore, he uses a walker, and I always ask myself “Why should someone like that who has worked hard and played by the rules and been a great dad, by the way, why should he have to justify to anyone why he needs the added comfort and convenience of voting from home? From his kitchen table, from his couch if he wants? He shouldn’t and now he doesn’t. And now I think we ought to take that to its logical extension, which is to make sure people can show up in person, vote early and have their ballot processed that very day. That would give people peace of mind and it would also be a big cost savings for the counties and others who administer elections. So I think that’s what we’re going to head on a bipartisan basis, and I would be thrilled to be a part of that, and helping to get to “yes.”
DC: Thank you. Next question is for Bob Helland. Ah Bob you talk about how ah the legislature has a primary role in elections, in election law. And how the primary role of the secretary of state is to administer elections in the state. But ah as we’ve seen here in Minnesota, with really the two previous secretaries, as well as other secretaries around the country, the job also has a pretty strong policy component, I think just like the attorney general in many states who has a role in ah legal debates, the secretary of state appears to have a policy role in these debates. Ah how do you square that with your view of the proper role of the secretary and how would you carry out that policy role, if at all, if elected secretary?
BH: Okay, certainly. Well, I don’t know where that policy role exists in the Constitution. My foundation for making those claims, acting and choosing priorities of what I’d do as secretary of state, is based on the constitutional authority of the secretary of state. Article III, Section I, the Division of Powers, clearly says that no person belonging to or comprising one branch will basically do the duties of the other branch. So, obviously the secretary of state does work with the legislature, and they do need to identify those problems and come up with solutions and address them, or provide input, provide data from the election system.
So – ah you said the role appears to have that. And we have seen the politicization of the role of the secretary of state in Minnesota, and that is something that I would like to get away from. I think I can show a new type of candidate, a new type of constitutional officer, that really clearly addresses the constitutional role, works well with the other branches of government, but in in terms of my priorities, I’ve chosen business services because that’s where my five years of experience with the Department of Revenue was, was as a business registration expert downstream from the office of secretary of state. And there is a breakdown in communication between those agencies, and it was basically a trap for small businesses trying to get started in the state.
So it’s not that I completely oppose the secretary of state, providing input or analysis into the election law, it’s that I don’t want to stand on a bully pulpit. That’s a word that I really think we should really try to remove from our constitutional offices. Because it really it stepping outside of the constitutional role into the legislative role to – and and that would take a lot of effort, I’m sure, after seven years, you found that passing legislation takes a lot of effort. So, I’m gonna use my time to the best effect for Minnesota, and in my opinion that’s focusing on what’s roughly two-thirds of the office of the business services division. Thanks.
DC: Great. Steve Simon?
SS: I do think the secretary of state has a major role to play ah in helping the legislature come to certain conclusions about policy. In leading. It’s true, that the secretary of state doesn’t have a vote, and shouldn’t have a vote. And if I’m secretary of state, I will no longer have a vote at the legislature. I won’t have a seat at that table. But, to at least be in the room, is a good and helpful thing. And to do it, and I can’t emphasize it enough, in a nonpartisan way. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements. That doesn’t mean unanimity. But it means finding common ground, and I think I’m in a good position to do that. I think I’ve earned a reputation in the legislature and around ah ah policy circles in Minnesota as someone who is fair, someone who listens, someone who can bring people together, as I have on online voter registration, as I did over the course of seven years on a very contentious No Excuses Absentee Voting bill that’s now law and being promoted by all political parties.
Ah so I have the relationships, I think I have, I’d like to think I have the demeanor and the skills, to bring people together and do what it takes to get to “yes.” And to get to consensus on these very important issues. That’s what the secretary of state can do most productively. DC: Bob Otten?
BO: Well, the secretary of state should review all legislation before the legislators. Ah even before when they’re discussing it. Ah he should be testifying at the legislature, ah giving his viewpoints. Ah for instance, early voting. Ah early voting may be great for voters, and and I’m certainly not opposed to it. But you gotta remember that it means bigger money. You have to have more money in order to run a campaign with early voting. It also means disenfranchising third parties, so you’re you’re going to get less. Ah and it also means that you’re going to miss a lot of the things that are important ah for your vote if you vote too early.
DC: Dan Severson?
DS: And there are separation of powers, as Bob said. And part of that process is really about how do you execute the office that you are constitutionally sworn to uphold? I think one of those issues is to ensure that ah that all those individuals that are eligible to vote, we make it as easy as possible for them to exercise their voice. And that is a policy provision that we push to the Legislature, to say “I think this, from my my vantage point, would be the best policy to implement under SONAR, Statement of Reasonable Need, the secretary of state has the ability to do rulemaking that can circumvent that. But that is something that I would use on a very marginal basis because really the voice of the people is held in the Legislature itself.
And I do have great relationships within the Legislature, I spent 8 years, I worked bipartisanly, particularly on on veteran issues and got tremendous support across the aisle in terms of making sure that our veterans were taken care of and establishing new job opportunities and opening doors for them. And so part of my process as secretary of state would be to advocate for ah good elections, great elections, and nonpartisanship.
DC: Great. Bob Helland, a followup?
BH: Well, I would like to address, every time I hear the word “bipartisan,” I don’t think of that as including me. I think that’s something, part of our cultural component again, that when people say “bipartisan” they equate it as “nonpartisan.” I’ve tried to introduce an idea of “tripartisanship,” that includes the left, the right, and everyone else, including myself, so I’d like to impress that upon you.
Ah so I think I do represent the independent option and a nonpartisan option in this race. And I’m not from the Legislature, I don’t have connections there, but I can work with people, I’ve proven that at multiple state agencies. I’m not sure how to address ah Mr. Odden’s claims on the early voting preventing third parties. I I haven’t seen the bill yet so it’s hard to make that type of claim, because I think we can address it.
And I’d like to thank Mr. Severson for agreeing on the constitutional authority and for introducing the idea of the rulemaking authority, because that’ something that voters need to be aware of and and how that would be used.
DC: Thank you, all right, next question. Ah Dan Severson, ah obviously you can’t talk about election administration in Minnesota over the last four years without talking about the Voter ID fight, obviously have a very highly publicized, fiercely fought Voter ID amendment, ah and now you have, as you mentioned in your opening statement, new ideas for ah bringing ah Voter ID in a modified form to Minnesota. Ah can you tell us about that, ah how you plan to work with the Legislature and others to make that happen?
DS: Yeah, and I think that goes back to the rulemaking, not the rulemaking, but introducing it to the legislature and saying “Here, I think is a great plan for implementing, and securing our ballot box.” And part of that, it’s called Express Lane voting. And really, I was an election poll watcher in the last election, and I saw lines in the inner city, I saw lines going out the door. It was nasty outside, and people were really ah encouraged – well, people left because they couldn’t get in. And they were cold.
Express Lane voting basically takes 3 of the lanes, or half of the lanes, and establishes an ability to use pollbooks and photo ID, or a state-approved ID card. Ah if you have that, you can get out of the line, you can go right through and – what happens in those lines that I saw was there are people who have challenges with registration and some of the other things. And they end up clogging up the line. And so those people that are behind them, who should be able to get through very quickly, are held up.
So Express Lane voting is voluntary; if you want to use your ID card, you’re more than welcome to do that, it’s kind of like at the shopping center, where they have an express lane lines, where if you have you’re in back of someone who has a basketful of goods, you can go over to the express line, you can do it yourself or you can have it 12 items or less.
The same principle. We do this in the ah in the commercial side. We should be able to implement the same kind of choice. And this really is about choice. This isn’t disenfranchising anyone. It gets gives that individual the opportunity to say “You know what? I would just as soon be home eating dinner with my family than standing in line here waiting to to vote.” And it gives them that option.
Thank you. Bob Helland?
BH: Let me just be clear that I don’t have any specific plans to push any legislation beginning on my first day in office. My first day in office is gonna be me, walking around, meeting all the diligent employees of the office of secretary of state, shaking their hands, learning what they do, and answering their questions about me. So those are the people that I would trust to help me execute the function of the office for the next 4 years, so I think that’s that’s a very critical to what this role really does. It’s understanding who works there, it’s a small office of less than a hundred people, and and that’s what I think we need to do.
The last thing that I’ll touch on is the Express Lane voting. We’re talking about that for voters, but we already have that right now for candidates. There’s an express lane for candidates. If you’re a major party, you pay $300 and get on the ballot. If you’re not, in our race you’d have to get 2,000 signatures. Why aren’t we talking about everyone going through the same hoops rather than having those types of express lanes to to institute more fairness into our elections. So that’s something we should talk about.
DC: Steve Simon?
SS: I know of no other place in the country that has introduced or talked about anything like an express lane voting plan, so all I have to go on is Dan Severson’s own words. And here’s what he said on a Tea Party activist’s cable TV show last April. Quote: Now if you don’t want to do it, be my guest. You can go over to the side and wait in line 2 hours in the cold. That’s fine.”
To me, and all I have to go on is are his words, it’s a way to marginalize, and to ostracize, and exclude people who don’t have the kind of ID that he and others like him think they should have. I think this is a warmed-over version of the Voter ID proposal that Minnesotans have rejected, ah pollbooks are fine, and I pushed legislation to expand and allow participation in pollbook pilot projects. I think that could really be the wave of the future. But to segregate people in two separate lines, and to kind of caustically and sarcastically talk about people waiting out outside in the cold for a couple of hours, I think has no place in this election or in the office of secretary of state.
DC: Bob Odden?
BO: Well, the fact that people were standing outside in the cold for a couple of hours shows a breakdown in the secretary of state’s office. Ah that should never happen. Ah people should be accommodated. Ah now with early voting, ah the pressure to vote on the last day of course is going to be way reduced. Ah I was reading ah in a lot of states it’s like 14 minutes or whatever.
Voter ID ah does have a place. Ah 500,000 people registered to vote in the last election. Ah when they went to vote. There were transcription errors. There are ah how to put it – it would be quicker to move along if people used the ID So, there are advantages to using it.
DC: Dan Severson?
DS: Yeah I think the the real issue here is making the system better. It’s about giving everyone the opportunity who’s eligible to vote, to vote and make it as easy as possible. And that’s what Express Lane voting is about. It’s not about leaving little old ladies out in cold. And and it really is, “How do we enfranchise them? How do we bring them in? How do we get them through the line quicker so they can get back to their life?” And so that’s this process. It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary. And it hasn’t been used in any other any other ah state ‘cause I just came up with it. After the failing of the photo ID issue, it’s how do we create better policies? Obviously, Minnesota was uncomfortable with a constitutional amendment. I get that. Ah this is another way in which we can secure our system and actually accommodate the voters more effectively.
DC: Thank you. Ah next question, back over to you, Bob Odden. Ah you mentioned ah both in your opening remarks as well as in a couple of your answers to questions. Ah your concern about government spending money on programs like election administration. Given that, there are some ah identified needs in terms of voting technology, or electronic pollbooks, or other items – even ah even providing IDs to people who don’t have them. Ah how would you balance ah the need to protect voters as taxpayers with your desire to reach out to voters as voters, if elected as secretary?
BO: Well I want all elections to be meaningful. And with believable results. People have to believe the people who are elected were actually voted in by the voters and do represent them. Ah if they don’t, they will start stop participating in government. And we will lose our rights. Ah that would be a horrific thing, we need people to continue to believe. Ah if we have to spend some money to do that, that’s a good thing. ‘Cause we want people to believe that they do have a voice, that they can change things if they need to be.
So Voter ID, well, y’know, we we turned that down. Ah technology? We have to be careful with that. There’s no way to know, y’know, if there’s a virus in it. Ah either in the software or in the program itself. Ah in the voting process, it eliminates the citizen’s participation, now lobbyists take over. Lobbyists that maintain machines and write the programs. Ah citizens lose the right ah in order to protect these things. The more people we have involved the more people that are looking over people’s shoulders. The better it is for everybody. Ah technology is not gonna help with that.
Ah well there’s also something new coming along where called ERIC. Ah an outside company would give our voter database and our driver database and they compare it with Social Security and hopefully clean up the voter rolls. Ah does it do it entirely if it’s half a million? Well I suppose it’s worth it. But there are problems with it.
DC: Thank you. Dan Severson?
DS: I’m sorry Doug, could you repeat the question please?
DC: Sure. The question is, how do you balance the desire to protect voters as taxpayers with the need to spend money on election administration to achieve other goals of the state’s election system?
DS: Well I think y’know and and that question comes up quite often, to say “Well how much is that going to cost?” And I I don’t think we can put a price tag on the integrity of our elections. Particularly when our elections are ah in Minnesota, many of them are determined by literally under fifty or a hundred. And so one of those issues is, is the voice of the people really being heard? Or is it being manipulated through a system that has some vulnerabilities?
And so I think when we ask the question “How much should we as taxpayers be paying?”, the real question is ah “How much will it cost to have a system that everybody feels they have a voice in? That they’re enfranchised? That that when something happens, they don’t they don’t feel like “Well, did that really bring forth the result that we thought it did?”
As in the Coleman-Franken recount where you had 6,224 – we don’t know where they came from. And so and when it’s an an election won by 312 votes, it in the general populace, the mind of those voters is kinda going “Well, was that legitimate?” And I think those are some questions that we need to address. And the amount of money should be secondary to “How do we create a system with integrity?”
DC: Thank you, Bob Helland?
BH: The question touched on spending as it relates to voting technology, electronic pollbooks, and those types of things. Ah it certainly is, as the Independence candidate, fiscally responsible, I think it is prudent to have some form of cost-benefit analysis on any types of changes that we make to know how much it is gonna cost. We we do need a price tag, there has to be a price tag somewhere. There’s a problem in government of not having price tags. And that turns into cost overruns.
What I’m gonna do as it pertains to voting technology is use my ten years, decade of experience in that field to test and improve those types of systems and to work with the staffs directly. I think we’ve we’ve had a problem of administrators being out of touch with the actual work being done, where the rubber hits the road. And that’s that’s been my experience. And I’m gonna take that into the office of secretary of state and really get my hands dirty, making sure those systems work. And making sure we have a good working product at reasonable cost for the state of Minnesota. That’s a solution.
DC: Steve Simon?
SS: Good elections of the kind that Minnesotans expect, cost money. I’ve spent the last several months as part of my campaign going across the state, meeting very intentionally, with election administrators. Normally they’re called county auditors, sometimes auditor treasurers, and I’ve met now with over 40 of them. Not quite all 87, in the counties, but close to a majority now. A lot. Enough to know that they face some real cost pressures. And keep in mind, these are the folks at the front lines. The city clerks and the county auditors are the ones who really the spine of the system. They do the hard work year in and year out.
And there are few varieties of cost. One is replacing voter equipment. After the 2000 election, everyone agreed, whether they were for Bush versus Gore or Bush or Gore in the Bush v. Gore fight, that Florida was a mess. And that we needed to standardize and upgrade election equipment. So Congress passed a law that provided a lot of money to a lot of folks that have election equipment. But those election machines purchased with that money ah are starting to get to the end of their life.
So one big cost challenge we’re gonna have as a state, and at the county level as well, is replacing that equipment. Doing it in a fair way, doing it in an equitable way, regardless of the size of the county, and that’s what I aim to help counties do.
DC: Bob Odden, followup?
BO: The costs – the costs should be that complicated. Course we have to keep to the budget. Ah but the primary concern again is maintaining believable elections, ah elections where you can actually vote for somebody like a judge. Or having believable results. Ah and that doesn’t take (unclear). It means more confidence in the system. Like for instance the secretary of state should be required to look into all allegations of voter fraud. And not just simply cover it up and say “Don’t look behind the curtain.” Ah and and that doesn’t cost any money. We give people belief in our system. Ah. Thank you.
DC: Thank you. Our next question is to Steve Simon. Ah Steve, Minnesota really is one of the leading states in the nation in adoption and use of ranked choice voting, especially at the local levels. Ah and I know you’ve been involved in that issue in the Legislature. Ah what is the future of ranked choice voting in Minnesota, and what role if any would you play as secretary of state in ah making that future happen? Or not?
SS: That’s a great question. Ranked choice voting is a system in use right now in Minneapolis and St. Paul only for municipal elections. Only. Not for any other kind of office. And so, I supported legislation for years, and have been the author of legislation that we simply allow other kinds of cities to experiment with it. Now, it might not be my personal thing or someone else’s personal thing, but if Roseville or Red Wing or some other community wants to experiment with ranked choice voting, which the Minnesota Supreme Court has already signed off on, in terms of its constitutionality, so we know it applies, all the rules apply, ah then why shouldn’t that particular city be able to do it without, as the case is now, having to come and beg for special permission from the legislature?
It just seems to me sort of the Goldilocks option, so to speak, sort of just right, not too hot, not too cold. Ah it’s not necessarily anyone’s endorsement but it seems reasonable. The community should be in charge of their own destiny, and by the way, if their voters love it, they should be able to keep it, if their voters can’t stand it, they should ditch it. But I don’t see why only the really big cities, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, should be allowed, or or cities in that category, should be allowed on their own to do it while everyone else has to sort of come on bended knee to the Legislature,
Ah where is it going? Ah I hope that legislation of that kind will pass, because I’d like to see what the experience is ah for cities that are not ah the largest in the state. I’d love to see a suburb or a township or a small town ah in a rural area experiment with it. Ah and and see what kind of results we get and how people like it and whether it empowers people, gives people more choices, gives people more flexibility and freedom, ah that to me that’s the ultimate thing. It’s what voters think, not what the rest of us think. Again, it might not be for every individual’s choice, or every community’s choice. But I’d say give communities those choice. And see what happens.
I’m not prepared yet to say that we should adopt it on any other level, other than municipal level. But why not allow for a simple Minnesota experimentation so that people ah can find the system that works best for them. This may be one of those systems.
DC: Thank you. Bob Odden?
BO: My city like a lot of cities, is ah all the people on the city council are citywide. And being citywide, it is kind of like ranked choice voting. I I really don’t see any need to change that, unless of course the citizens want it.
Ah but there are some problems with ranked choice voting. One is people understanding the system. Ah there are places where they they used it now for 3 times whatever. Even the people who work at the polling place don’t really quite understand ranked choice voting. Ah y’know when you have like Minneapolis, 35 people running for mayor, ah do you really believe the results? Do you really believe that the, that the person who won is the person who actually got elected?
DC: Dan Severson?
(off camera laughter)
DS: I am not necessarily opposed to ranked choice voting. I think the real challenge comes in doing just that, is getting getting a consistent result. Because I’ve as I’ve looked into it a little bit, there are issues that can be manipulated. I think the other issue as well is the cost of ranked choice voting. And it has exceeded its expectations in terms of cost. Ah how do we deal with those and once it’s implemented how do we deal with it in the future?
I do ah ah I would support at the local level because I believe that local government is the voice of the people at its best administered by the people. So I would also agree that taking it out of the legislative hands would be appropriate at the local level. I would not support it at the legislative level in terms of state representation or above.
DC: Thank you. Bob Helland?
BH: I believe we need to expand the discussion of ranked choice voting to all levels of government. That’s not to say that I think it’s gonna get done in my term, but we need to have the conversation, and I certainly recognize the great work of organizations out there like Fair Vote, and Fair Vote Minnesota, who are who are raising the debate, raising the issue in conversation and I want Minnesotans to start becoming more aware of it. Because if I had a term in term in office it is something that we would talk about. If it’s good enough for large cities like Mr. Simon says, it can also be good enough for smaller municipalities and it can also be good enough for the state of Minnesota.
So, let’s start talking about it. Let’s start finding the information from those nonprofit groups that are trying to do their best to give us a new way of thinking about elections, as the culture of democracy. It’s it’s very important. It I think ranked choice voting, which is reflective of the choice of voters. And that’s the most important piece. Is that. Your ability to rank by preference, who you want to be in office, is a new way to be thinking about elections. And it’s reflective of your true desire.
DC: Thank you. Steve Simon?
SS: Two things as a followup. First, ah I’m I’m encouraged to hear Mr. Helland say that, and I think generally Mr. Odden I hope would agree ultimately, this is something that could benefit ah folks from a different political perspective. And offer voices of different avenues ah of expression that involve third parties or others. So I I’m really intrigued by that as well. But the other thing that that this is a good example of is the need for bipartisan and nonpartisan leadership by the secretary of state. This is one of those issues that can and only will get done in the legislature. That is, to sort of unshackle cities so that they can experiment.
If we have bipartisan cooperation. I say “bipartisan” in this context because there are only two parties represented in the legislature. But the point is to bring everybody to the table. If and when it happens at the legislature, to unshackle cities, to make sure they can, dare to experiment with a system that works for them and for their people, it will be because people of good will, Republicans and Democrats and others, come to the table. That’s what I’ve tried to do for 10 years in the legislature, with some pretty good success and what I want to do as secretary of state.
DC: Thank you, next question is to Bob Helland. Bob, there’s an ah old line in politics that ah “Answer the question you wish they’d asked instead of the question they asked.” I’m going to do you the favor of asking you the question that you wish that I’d asked. Which is what do your views of the secretary’s business responsibilities say about how you would approach the election work of the office? What kind of crossover is there if any between those different facets of the job?
BH: There’s a fundamental underpinning of both major divisions of the secretary of state’s office, Business Services and the Elections Division. The future of the state, the future of services provided by the state, to all Minnesotans, is gonna be facilitated by technology. We’ve seen problems over the past years in rollouts and major technology issues at the state level, at the federal level. I’m sure there’s complexities at the municipal and other local levels that we really need people with experience and technology managing those projects, testing out software, managing hardware, those are critical skills that I’m bringing from my background into the office of secretary of state, or at least, raising as a part of the conversation, how important that truly is.
Whether it’s the way you obtain information about candidates, whether it’s how you find information about ah where you can vote, I’m sure all of us, if I asked to raise your hand, you access that through some form of technology. You probably knew you were coming here, you might have gone somewhere and checked it out; it’s critical that we are providing those services at reasonable cost and they are providing solutions for the state of Minnesota.
So the biggest crossover between the two is the necessity of having qualified personnel and leadership to introduce those projects and see them through to fruition and success and to be able to analyze and say, “This was good for the state of Minnesota. We did the right thing. What else can we do with these same types of skill sets?”
So, aside from the technology, which is the biggest thing, a lot of what I talk about as an executive is not again what I would do as a legislator, what laws I pass. It’s how I work with the people in the office, how I work in partnership with other agencies that depend on the office of secretary of state as part of that streamline, and then the technology. So, people, partnerships and technology is going to be critical to both aspects. Thanks.
DC: Thank you. Steve Simon?
SS: I can see at least a couple of crossovers between the business services and elections functions. One is just problem solving, finding challenges that exist within the system, whether it’s business filings or voter registration for example, and finding a better way. A better way that a lot of people across the political spectrum can agree on.
And that leads to the second thing, which is the importance of nonpartisanship. It is so critical and so crucial that the secretary of state not be perceived as putting his or her thumb on the scale. For any particular party or candidate. And that means having the trust and confidence of people who might not agree with you, in fact people who might not ever vote for you. I I that’s something I’ve tried to earn, I I think it’s it’s hard won at the legislature, through my work on election law, and others as well, and that’s a skill set that’s absolutely important.
And it also means ah y’know having confidence and faith in the systems that you’re running, or helping to oversee. Ah y’know ah I have that, Minnesota’s nine out of the last nine elections have been number one, and that’s for a reason. Because people have a high degree of trust and faith and confidence that our system, though always in need of some reform, is essentially good.
DC: Thank you, Bob Odden?
BO: Y’know I hear a lot about bipartisan, or allpartisan –ah Libertarian Party’s never been consulted when the poll’s changes are being made in election law. Ah Steve Simon proposed a law that would move the primary date ah up so that you know there could be more coverage here of presidential candidates. And ah it would have put our petitioning into March – frostbite time. It would’ve put all third-party candidates out of business. We were never consulted. Ah and I simply don’t believe it.
DC: Dan Severson?
DS: Well, I think the the executive position of secretary of state plays a big role in both the elections and the business side, more in a leadership and vision casting role. Part of it is ah not to be the expert, the largest part of that, I believe, is ah recruiting experts in that particular area that can execute the vision that we begin to paint. And that’s why I think the relationships within the legislature themselves would play a large role, having that great relationships, having worked within the system, and knowing that pulling people in at the right time, in the right process is a big part of how do we improve our business processes?
Now one of the big things that we’re suffering in Minnesota is discrimination against some of our our new Americans and and low-income people because of overcertification requirements because of licensure requirements that were, may have been put in place for y’know what they determined would be a good purpose. But now have become onerous and are keeping people out of the marketplace. My connections within those communities is one of those things that I wanna use and as an ambassadorial role to the community at large to increase the business side and the options for ah people across the spectrum for Minnesota.
DC: Bob Helland, followup? BH: I wanted to say for my last minute the topic of education. I think that’s a huge role of the secretary of state is civic education, both for business services and for elections. That was the problem, that was the biggest single problem, I believe, in my experience at the revenue department in business registration. Is that there wasn’t an education from one agency going to the next agency. And that’s something that we can work with those partners in the streamline of registering a business, other state agencies, local licensure, and ah the federal government to improve that process. And the same is true for voting to make sure that we can educate you about those processes.
Ah I’d like to touch on – in in my campaign I’ve talked about this. When I say I’m the business service candidate, or people are aware of the elections role of the secretary of state, where the conversation typically goes is “What are the opportunities? What can you do for me as a voter? Why should I vote for you? What opportunities do you have for me?” I hear that from students coming out of school, I hear that from veterans returning from service, from families about their kids, and from immigrants who are new to Minnesota, and we can serve that with education.
DC: Thank you. And our last question, if you can believe it, goes to Dan Severson. Ah Dan you’ve talked about ah as a veteran, the need to ensure the voting rights of overseas and military voters. And you’ve talked about an online absentee program. Ah I know that there are in many states across the country, pushes to go beyond ah merely making ballots available to actually allowing members of the military or other overseas Americans to cast votes online over the internet. Ah what’s your take on that, and what if anything would you do if elected secretary?
DS: Thank you for that question. And and it is a passion of mine because we have our war fighters, or we have our our ah troops that are over there, and they’re fighting every day for our freedoms on foreign soil. And so their primary ah voice is being squelched, because right now, only about 15% at the best are able to cast a vote that counts. And they have secure ID cards.
Much to the chagrin of the whole Photo ID issue was, military would be disenfranchised. I’m not sure how you disenfranchise a group that’s already only voting at 15%. They have, most of them have secure ID cards, they have access to secure networks, and Arizona’s already implemented this since 2009. And they have the ability to ah get their ballot online, and then vote online. My proposal would be to do exactly that and print a hard copy ballot and that that would be the backup process, mailed back to the States.
I think it’s a great opportunity because the military is a controlled group, it’s one that we can troubleshoot, and it’s not a superlarge ah group here in Minnesota, and it really does tell our warriors – our ah our military personnel – that we are concerned that they have a voice in this process. They’re the ones that are fighting for our freedoms, they ought to be the first one to count.
And so, my proposal would be to, as the secretary of state, is to bring it to the legislature and say “How can we set up a system in which we get the ballots to the individuals, they’re able to vote online, work with the Department of Defense, and say “Let’s set up an encrypted network that we can actually have those votes count within the secretary of state’s office.” And they would be some of the first to count. Thank you.
DC: Thank you, Bob Helland?
BH: The question was about internet voting and I do agree with Mr. Severson that the military, as a as a confined group, in very extreme circumstances, it’s it’s worth considering piloting a program for them to be able to sec secure encrypted vote online. So I I think that’s very important.
As far as the numbers that are thrown around, in terms of the military vote, I I think there’s a lot of things that play into that. The voter turnout, a lot of these are young, young people, again in very extreme circumstances, so it it may just be a choice.
And what I would want to do to address the military voting issue is – one thing I think I’d really like to do, and I would pledge to do, if elected, even if it was at my own expense, is to travel to them to show them that we can come to you and we want to reach you. I think it’s a lack of education or a lack of interest, and I think that providing more options representing something that is new in politics and government, and talking about the issues that are specific to them, again the biggest being what are the opportunities when I receive home? I think that’s how we can start improving those numbers.
DC: Steve Simon?
SS: We need to make it as easy as possible for our men and women in uniform, whether overseas are not, to vote. And that’s what I spent a career doing. In 2009, the Pentagon said the number one thing we could do in Minnesota, to ease the burden on our overseas military, is to move up the date of the primary. Because so many of the absentee ballots are coming in late because there wasn’t enough time between the September primary and the general election. So I, working with Democrats and Republicans, did that, and that was a good move.
Ah ah we’e been I’ve been a part of state and federal kind of interlocking laws, ah over many years, that have accommodated overseas voters. For example, many can already receive ah their ballots by email. Ah and there’s no requirement in most cases for people to have a witness on an absentee ballot. So those are the some of the accommodations, absolutely deserved, we absolutely have to continue those as well.
What is not helpful in this debate is something Mr. Severson said last week in a press conference about this issue. He was asked whether it was the case that the commander in chief of the United States of America and the secretary of state of Minnesota were intentionally, intentionally, suppressing the military vote? He said yes. And I don’t think the secretary of state is the place for such really irresponsible and reckless comments, accusations or conspiracy theories.
DC: Bob Odden?
BO: Ah well first of all, our secretary of state has been extremely partisan ah in his conduct, so I ah don’t know if that’s ah a necessarily ah I’m I’m something that shouldn’t be done. Ah the federal government plays a large part in the role of voting for peoples overseas and the military. And you definitely have to work with them in order to get that vote out. Ah and if they’re not cooperative, ah at the Pentagon or whatever, ah we’re simply not gonna get their votes. So that needs to be worked with.
Ah I didn’t see any any change with the change in the primary date. And that pushed our petitioning back into the end of May, first week of June, when there’s no big outside activities, when the weather can be bad, and it was difficult to get the signatures so that I could even be here today. Ah so it is difficult for third parties.
DC: Dan Severson, followup?
DS: Yeah and that, and that particular statement grew from a couple of articles that I had read about the funding for the MOVE Act, and the Military Overseas Voting Empowerment Act. And that was passed by the Congress, and then funding was to go to out, much of that funding was pulled back. And so that created a more difficult situation for our military overseas to actually be able to execute the vote. And ah so, that was a little bit of the underground on that particular issue.
Again, all of the backbiting, all of that stuff needs to go away. We need to set a new vision for how do we get the solutions brought forward. And that’s what my campaign, that’s what my secretary of state process will be about.
DC: Great. Thank you. That finishes the question portion. Ah we’ll now shift to brief ah closing statements, and the first one is Bob Odden. Bob?
BO: Thank you. I want to start off by thanking the sponsors of this debate, it is rare for someone from a minor party ah to be taken seriously and allowed to participate in the debate with major party candidates. I extend my thanks to Bob up here for trying to get all candidates running for an office in a debate. (to BH) Thank you Bob.
BO: First, what do I bring to the secretary of state’s office? I know how to increase voter participation with meaningful and believable elections. For meaningful elections, I mean to eliminate control of elections by Democrats and Republicans. Ah this is the equivalent of the fox again watching the henhouse. More choice means more voters, more excitement.
Ah if the mainstream media will not provide coverage of other parties, well voters need to be directed to election coverage providers that will. Ah finally, make sure that judges are no longer appointed. Ah that they are open seats and that there are lawyers or others willing to run against ah a judge that is not an incumbent.
Ah address potential fraud to make elections believable. Start by determining the voters’ eligibility before they vote. Reduce the ability of major parties to abuse our frail elderly and disabled in voter fraud schemes. Set up the election process so smaller parties can compete just as effectively as possible. Keep our election process within the grasp of local citizens and out of lobbyists’ hands. Finally, work with the citizens and organizations that make accusations of voter fraud until the matter is resolved.
Finally, ideally, everyone looking at a ballot needs to understand what they are doing and who they are voting for. It should be one of the greatest endeavors undertaken by the secretary of state’s office. Ah to help facilitate that outcome regardless of party politics.
My name is Bob Odden. You the people have asked for a third party candidate. Well, I’m here. Ah for politics as usual to change, you need to vote differently. That can start this November fourth. Ah you can vote for me as secretary of state. I am a Libertarian and I will work with everyone for you, the independent voter. As an engineer, I have thought deeply about elections. I will do something that others cannot. I will lead to create meaningful and believable elections. Where everyone’s vote counts – once.
DC: Thank you Bob Odden. Dan Severson?
DS: Thank you, thank you for the opportunity today to talk a little bit about the secretary of state office. The executive position is an important position in our government’s system, it’s one that sits on the executive council and makes decisions other than just voting and business. But want to speak specifically to the position and qualifications that I believe I carry to this.
Out of the military I had a number of executive branch positions that I served in in those positions, had considerable responsibility, but I think the thing that was most prominent was the vision. And the vision that I carried to Washington D.C. was reforming a database process. I received a Meritorious Service Medal for that process, and went on to other leadership positions. But again, in terms of what we’re talking about here for the secretary of state, it is an executive position that oversees. And part of that vision is to make sure that our elections are secure, that the people of Minnesota really believe that we are doing the best we can. It’s not just a good system. It needs to be the best system.
And so to do that we need to secure our ballot box. Part of that process would be to remove the vouching, put in provisional ballots, make sure that same-day registrations have the opportunity to be validated that day, that no one is disenfranchised. And and those are some of the provisions that I would be executing or I would be working to help work with the legislature to bring about reasonable reforms in this process.
I don’t think the system is is destroyed. I think, with some tweaks, we can bring it to the confidence of the people. Now when we talk about the participation in the past, ah the great participation that Minnesota has, it’s because Minnesota believes that we are obligated to participate in this process as a civic duty. And so in 2008 we had 78% participate. In 2012, that was down two percentage points. And I firmly believe that that was a little bit of a pushback from the Franken-Coleman recount.
I think we can do better. And I believe that some of the responsibility falls upon the secretary of state to do that. Also with the business services, I believe that the secretary of state should work as an ambassador in the business sector to be able to not just get out and not just to those established businesses, but to those startup businesses as well. And say “How can we remove barriers and siloes that are keeping you from participating in the American dream, and so that every American, every Minnesotan has the opportunity to achieve that?”
That was my goal to protect the Constitution for 22 years as a military fighter pilot. And it is it will be my goal and my honor to do that as your next secretary of state for the state of Minnesota. You can go to danseverson.com, take a look at our Web site, I’ve got 10 points that I actually, or seven points, I’m sorry, that I actually put forward on my first days in office, and I’d be honored to have your vote. Thank you.
DC: Thank you, Bob Helland?
BH: It is truly a thrill for me to be here. It’s truly a thrill for me to be a candidate in this race, learning the ropes, enjoying the conversations with these fine gentlemen, it’s something that I’d encourage everyone to do, and it’s a passion that I want to share with all Minnesotans: being involved in the civic processes.
Ah what what I really want to talk about is, try not to be scared. Fear is gonna paralyze us. There’s a lot of talk about wasted votes. But really, vote your conscience. Y’know. Do your best to learn about all the candidates, go out and find the information, and really really put thought into it and vote your conscience. Express your belief in what you want for the state of Minnesota.
I also want to touch on inclusion because there’s an important thing goin on with two weeks until the election right now. We have major party candidates and other party candidates being excluded from debates, and that’s limiting your exposure to your options, and the information you have and the ways you can learn about them. So for those debates involving Andy Dawkins or IP gubernatorial candidate Hannah Nicollet, please consider what you can do as a cultural role as voters to demand access to those options. That’s a critical thing that you can all do right now and it’s something that I’m gonna do, both as a candidate and a voter, because I want access to that information.
Ah the the final things I want to impress upon you are – consider running as a candidate someday. I – for 5 years I stayed on the sidelines as a state employee and said “When am I gonna be ready?” When is anybody ready to become a government official or candidate? There’s there’s no correct time, you’ll never be able to know. I’ve said I’m 29 years old, I’ve seen this long enough, I need to jump in. And I could be the youngest elected statewide executive in the nation. And I think that’s important for getting young people involved.
I also want you to explore your options that touched on the education piece and the inclusion. You have more options than you know. Consider your opportunities, whether it’s business services, education, you all have bright futures. This is just one way we can achieve that through state government. You all have bright futures, so consider those options.
And finally, help each other. Voting, help people get to the polls. Help people understand their options, help people navigate technology. Help each other. In the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other. (audience laughs)
Wild stallions, thank you for your time. And ah I’ll be sticking around if you’d like to speak with me afterwards. Thank you. I’m Bob Helland.
DC: Thank you, Steve Simon?
SS: Well thanks again to the Humphrey School for putting this on. Again, my name is Steve Simon, I’m the Democratic Party candidate for secretary of state. And I’m running to be a secretary of state who will put Minnesota’s interests above politics. That means being fair, impartial, nonpartisan, and constructive, it means providing accurate information to people all across the state, and it means making sure at every turn, that we always remember to make it as easy as possible for all eligible voters to vote. Period. We do not slam doors in people’s faces in Minnesota.
And that’s what my career has been all about. The new No Excuses Absentee Voting law, or Vote by Home, or Vote by Mail, it’s called by many names, is really one of my proudest accomplishments, I worked on it for seven years, in a very bipartisan, really nonpartisan way. Bringing people to the table, everyone to the table, to get a result that we now know has a lot of universal acceptance. Because all the political parties are really promoting the heck out of it. As they should, because it empowers people to vote. And voting is no longer a one-shot deal. Or whether it’s accommodating our overseas military voters, with moving the earlier primary day, and other everyday accommodations. Or online voter registration, which I’m proud to have helped brought to Minnesota.
But there’s more we can do. Whether it’s early voting or automated voter registration or closing the participation gap that we have in this state. We’re lucky to be number one in the nation. And we have been in the last nine elections, when it comes to voter participation. But that participation doesn’t fall evenly across all communities. Either geographic communities, meaning a physical place, or demographic communities, so we have a lot of work to do in Minnesota on that score. And that will be one of my real initiatives and passions as well.
So we have a choice, I think. Do we want to make it easier to vote, as I do, as I think most Minnesotans do? Or do we want to make it harder, as through warmed-over proposals on Photo ID, which Minnesotans have already rejected? Or do we want to for example, have an honest broker, with experience of ah bipartisan and nonpartisan action? Or do we want someone who really is a partisan warrior? Ah who is on an ideological crusade? Or has an axe to grind politically? Ah do we want someone who’s forward thinking about how to modernize and make our election system more future oriented? Or do we have someone still pounding the drum on past elections, that perhaps didn’t go the way the candidate wanted them to go?
Ah that is the choice that we are faced with this election, and we have a good thing going. You don’t junk the car because one of the taillight’s out. Ah in Minnesota there’s always room for improvement, always room for reform, that’s what we as Minnesotans do best, we bring everyone to the table. But you don’t get rid of a good thing and we have a good thing.
I’ll leave you with a T-shirt that I saw this summer earlier at a parade. A great T-shirt. And the T-shirt said “Failure to vote is not an act of rebellion. It’s an act of surrender.” I hope no one, no matter who they vote for, in this race or any other, will surrender that precious right to vote. And I hope everyone will take advantage of the laws we’ve passed and our great culture in Minnesota that encourages civic participation. Either get out to vote, or, as we can do for the first time ever, stay in and vote. Stay on your couch or kitchen table and vote from home, if that’s what suits you best. I’m Steve Simon, I’m the Democratic candidate, and I’d be honored to be Minnesota’s next secretary of state. Thank you.
DC: Thank you gentlemen. I am, even though Thanksgiving is a month away, ah incredibly thankful today. First I wanna thank the ah Humphrey School and my colleagues for ah helping with the room, helping keep us on time, ah I want to thank our our four candidates, Dan Severson, Bob Helland, Steve Simon, and Bob Odden, for an incredibly substantive and remarkably respectful conversation. I want to thank you.
I want to thank those of you in the audience, and I want to thank ah the state of Minnesota. I travel around the country, talking about elections quite a lot. And I often joke that maybe ah the American system of elections wasn’t invented in Minnesota, but Minnesota has done as much if not more than any other state to perfect it. And I think that was on ah display today.
I want to echo the encouragement of all the candidates, get out and vote, no matter who you vote for. I want to thank all of you for being here. Ah and with that, we are adjourned. Thank you!
(Audience applause, candidates shake hands) .