Why don’t some election judges know election law?

It’s probably a thankless job, which is why I am always sure to thank the election judges in the precinct where I vote. Nevertheless, I’m struck today by how many people are working as election judges who don’t know the election law, but aren’t letting that stop them from offering an interpretation of it.

Let’s take the case of Chloe Maiers of Woodbury who wrote to our Public Insight Network this afternoon:

Chloe found out (through her teacher) that there is a law in Washington County that says if you turn 18 within 24 hours of Election Day… you can vote. She registered. But when she got to the polls, she wasn’t on the election rolls. The judges said, “no,” she can’t vote. She talked to every judge there, insisting that she could… and asked them to look up the law. They did, and allowed her to re-register. “After all of this, the election judges commented on how glad I was that I didn’t just give up and left after they first told me I couldn’t vote.” She was beyond excited.”

Chloe was able to vote because Chloe insisted that the election judges look up the law before turning her away for good. But if she wasn’t that insistent?

Here’s Luke Schmidt of Minneapolis:

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He was asked for a second form of ID in addition to an out-of-state driver’s license — a reasonable request, but his Metro State student ID was not accepted.

A check of the Secretary of State’s Web site tells why this was an error. Here’s the list of acceptable photo IDs:

* Minnesota Driver’s License

* Minnesota ID Card

* United States Passport

* United States Military ID Card

* Tribal ID Card

* Minnesota University, College, or Technical College ID Card

“If I wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, I would have been ashamed of myself,” he told me this evening while confirming that there was, indeed, a photo on the Metro State ID.

The Minnesota Independent is carrying a story this evening — unconfirmed, it should be pointed out — of a problem between translators and GOP challengers, who allegedly were telling the election judges what the rules were and, if you believe the story, in the absence of knowledge, they held sway.

At another point he told the election judge that the translators could not be at the voting booths “hovering around.” He also confronted some other translators directly, but refused to let me hear what he was saying. At that point, a few translators left, unsure if they were breaking the law.

When I talked to Csilla Szabo, one of the many people who suddenly “disappeared” from the voting rolls, she told me she asked an election judge who she can file a complaint with. “I was told individuals can’t file a complaint,” she said. And that’s not true either, although it might go a long way to explaining why the Secretary of State’s office was so quickly dismissing the mounting evidence that something wasn’t quite right with the voter lists because they only had “one or two” reports, while we had dozens.

Another report, via Twitter, said an election judge reported a young man was told his mother couldn’t vouch for him which is, again if true, wrong. According to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

“A voter registered in the same precinct as you who can confirm your address with a signed oath.”

Bloomington precinct supervisor Mario Impagliazzo acknowledged that poll workers in precinct 2 initially were confused about identification requirements, and improperly asked registered voters for their IDs. Impagliazzo said he received a phone all alerting him to the problem and he corrected it.

As former MPR report Art Hughes said in a 2004 story, election judges are at the front line of voter credibility in Minnesota, and to the extent that the process was a smooth one in the state today — and for the most part it was — we can thank them profusely.

For those few cases where an election judge deprived — or delayed — a voter’s exercise of their right, we should be looking at the fastest way to prevent that in the future.

MPR’s Tom Weber is at the state Capitol tonight and he’ll be providing some thoughts from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie later this evening.

Update 8:38 p.m. – I’ve posted Ritchie’s comments upthread. We just got this comment in: