Election judges and the constitutional amendments

Throughout the day, we’ve been getting reports of election judges telling voters that if they don’t vote on a constitutional amendment, it’s considered a “no” vote.

An MPR employee had such an experience this morning while voting in Afton, which is located in Washington Co.

At the table where voters handed in their ballot, there was an sheet of paper explaining that a non-vote meant a “no” vote. When the judge handed the MPR employee a ballot, the judge pointed to the sign and asked if she understood that statement.

It’s true that a non-vote equals a no vote, but election judges aren’t supposed to talk to voters about it, the Secretary of State’s office tells us.

Here’s the Secretary of State’s guidance on the subject that the office sent to counties:

As we all know, it is extremely important that election judges are completely neutral when administering the election. The Minnesota Voter’s Bill of Rights states, voters “have the right to vote without anyone in the polling place trying to influence [their] vote.”

Some counties have asked how election judges should explain the effect of not voting on a proposed Constitutional Amendment. There should be nothing for election judges to explain orally about the constitutional amendments. The instruction wording is printed on the ballot above the constitutional amendments. If voters ask about the proposed amendments, election judges should point to this language without any further explanation to avoid influencing how the voter votes. As always, you may want to consult with your county attorney if you have questions about this matter.

“Election judges should be pretty neutral when dealing with any part of the ballot,” explained Pat Turgeon, who is spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office. “So the recommendation from this office was if someone asked to explain the effect of whether a yes or no vote reads, that language is right on the ballot. It explains right on the ballot what that means. So they can just point to that language and the voter can read that.”

Jennifer Wagenius, who is Washington County’s Property Records and Taxpayer Services Director and who also directs elections for the area, said that the signs were a larger version of the exact question on the ballot, which includes a disclaimer that a non-vote equals a “no” vote.

But after conferring with the Secretary of State’s office earlier today, the signs were removed, Wagenius said.

“Our goal initially was so that folks could look at the question before they got to their booth if they wanted to to avoid out election judges giving any instruction,” Wagenius said. “But we got some feedback that it would be best if we did not have those large versions of the ballot questions, so we removed them.”

  • Paul

    Same for me in Rochester, W5P2. “That’s not entirely true”, I corrected him. Rolled his eyes and said the same thing to the next voter.

  • Andy

    Same thing here in Rosemount, P-5.

  • Mary McGibbon

    I actually heard the woman telling the folks in front of me “If you leave it blank, it’s an automatic NO vote.” She asked if I had heard her instructions, & when I said I wasn’t paying attention, she repeated the same thing to me. I asked what about the other votes and leaving them blank, she told me that “That doesn’t matter.”

    I brought this to the attention of the head judge at my polling place, and she said that that’s what the commercials were saying. I pointed out that that was campaigning & it’s not to be done at the polling place. She told me she’d look into it.

    I then called the city auditor, the state election office, and the county auditor to voice my complaint.

    My daughter voted later in the day at the same place, she was told, “Be sure and read your ballot completely.”

    Neutral…don’t think so :(