It may be an odd-numbered year with no big elections scheduled statewide, but Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on Monday made the case for election changes he says will increase turnout and efficiency.
Potential election law changes are part of omnibus bills that are in both the House and Senate he said Monday in a swing through Brainerd that followed an early morning presentation before social studies teachers in St. Cloud.
Changes his office is supporting include:
• Increasing the ability of townships to use all-mail balloting.
• Changing the threshold of vote margins for publicly funded recounts from 1/2 of 1 percent to 1/4 of 1 percent of total votes counted.
• Increased use of early voting or no excuse absentee voting.
• Allowing the secretary of state more access to Minnesota court system and Department of Corrections data on felons that can be shared with election judges.
Ritchie said Minnesota has about 1,800 townships and 532 of them conduct all-mail balloting. Currently the law allows such all-mail balloting in townships with less than 400 registered voters. Proposed legislation would allow it for townships with less than 1,000 registered voters.
“It saves a lot of money,” Ritchie said.
There was some sentiment among county election officials, he said, to allow any township to request all-mail balloting.
“It does increase turnout and reduce costs,” he said.
Ritchie, a Democrat who was first elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, said that one positive aspect of mail balloting is that the voter can take a little time at home to research the candidates in what might be a lesser known political race.
The election law changes are contained in separate omnibus bills in the Senate and the House, he said. Ritchie said Senate File 677 has been sent to the Finance Committee and is not expected to change very much. House File 334 should be in close-to-final form by the end of this week, the secretary of state said.
Crow Wing County Deputy Auditor Deborah Erickson, co-chair of the Elections Committee of the Minnesota Association of County Officers (MACO), said her group is aligned with some but not all of the legislative measures called for by Ritchie.
She said MACO supports early and no excuse absentee voting because they will save administrative costs and similar laws work well in the majority of states. MACO supports all-mail balloting because it gives more control to local officials. She said Crow Wing County currently has 10 precincts that have all-mail voting with the largest of those precincts having about 200 registered voters. Erickson said her professional group also backs a bill that would give the secretary of state’s office more information from the judicial system and the Minnesota Department of Corrections in order to determine who is a felon. MACO also supports changing the threshold for vote margins for publicly funded recounts, Erickson said. She noted that new measure would also stipulate that the recount is not mandatory but would depend upon a candidate’s request for a recount when the margin is within the appropriate guidelines.
Erickson said MACO is backing a bill it had suggested that would clean up administrative issues, delete obsolete references and realize savings by reducing newspaper publication requirements regarding ballots by directing people to a website.
Ritchie said legislative leaders of both parties usually come to agreement on these election issues and they’re often rolled into a larger bill.
“Everybody wants to save money,” he said. “Everybody wants to preserve the integrity of the process.”