Fixing the election system in Minnesota

In the wake of the Franken-Coleman mess, what changes would you recommend to Minnesota’s election law?

Here’s one:

“My feeling personally, and I think a lot of people share this opinion, that if it would greatly improve the quality of our election judges if the persons who are so interested in making sure things are going correctly in the precinct actually serve as an election judge, rather than challengers.”

That’s Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert, who told legislators yesterday that additional restrictions, on behavior of challengers, might be needed.

MPR’s Tim Nelson reports that early voting and automatic registration might lighten the workload for election judges, and put more attention on the more time-consuming parts of the process, like absentee voting.

But in the spotlight of the recount, a significant problem — at least anecdotally — has gone unnoticed and unaddressed: people were improperly denied the opportunity to vote. On Election Day, we had quite a few stories from people who had voted before in a precinct, and went to vote on Election Day, only to find out they weren’t registered. What happened to them? Why did they disappear?

MPR’s Mike Mulcahy hosts Midday today and will tackle the topic at 11 a.m.

  • bsimon

    Focusing on voter accessibility is good; I would add a change to the way votes are counted. I find it troubling that some of our statewide elected officials (the Gov & the winner of the 08 Senate race, at least) are elected by a plurality, not a majority. The Minneapolis experiment with instant run-off voting may prove the viability of one alternative; another is to conduct run-off elections when no candidate wins a majority.

  • Bob Collins

    What about having the state be responsible for elections rather than the counties?

  • Run-off voting has its upside.

    As to Instant Runoff – after watching the fiasco we just endured, I can’t imagine trying to untangle a statutory “tie” vote given the way IRV is set up.

    Vocational note: I’m a Human Interaction and Usability guy in real life – I design systems (software, forms, stores, whatever) to be “usable” to real people. And Instant Runoff brings up scads of questions.

  • Brian F

    I like the idea of having a run-off election – either instant or as soon afterward as is reasonable.

    I think it would be great fun at this point for Coleman & Franken have a Jell-O wrestling match to determine the winner. It wouldn’t be titillating, but it would be hilarious, and I think, at this point, about as legitimate a means as any other.

  • Common Cause is looking into this issue. However, the problem was likely caused by the fact that election judges could not find individuals names on the voting rolls, even though their name was on the list. We saw this happen with the wrongly rejected absentee ballots. In Ramsey county, election officials discovered 21 absentee ballots had been wrongly rejected because election judges on the night of the election determined that the individual was not registered to vote. Further examination by the county discovered that in fact the individual had been registered to vote.

  • Common Cause is looking into this issue.

    Not reassuring in the least.

  • momkat

    The problem that Mike D mentions is probably caused by exhaustion. The election judges can start processing absentee ballots after the last person in line at 8pm has voted. Most judges have been on duty since 6am that day and now the hard part begins–lots of tedious procedures to make sure all the counts match, no one has voted twice, etc.

    Maybe the absentee ballots should be counted before election day, either by county or state election folks.

  • Joel

    While our system may not be perfect, I would argue that the MN approach was and is vastly superior than that of the FL debacle.

  • tiredboomer

    I didn’t hear the interview, and perhaps in context Cindy Reicher’s statement wouldn’t bother me so much.

    “My feeling personally, and I think a lot of people share this opinion, that if it would greatly improve the quality of our election judges if the persons who are so interested in making sure things are going correctly in the precinct actually serve as an election judge, rather than challengers.”

    I don’t want aggressive, intimidating partisan challengers serving as election judges. Holding the “office” of election judge would make partisan challenges legitimate (or more legitimate, see next paragraph). Do we really want a Coleman and a Franken representative sitting as election judges, profiling voters and challenging those that don’t fit the proper profile?

    And ANOTHER THING that bothers me. Our current election judges must declare a party designation. This is probably necessary to prevent a polling place from being “run” by one or the other major party … but it still bothers me. Just a few short years ago my city was begging for election judges. In the spirit of public service I volunteered. I was surprised when I got to the question of party designation, but answer truthfully writing in “none”. I discovered I could not serve without specifying a party.

  • Bob Collins

    Re: Better than Florida — Kind of a low bar.

    tireboomer, unless I’m missing something — and I probably home — the notion that you can’t be an election judge unless you have an allegiance to a party seems like a very poor policy.

  • Elizabeth T

    Improve the system (realistic): post 2 giant signs at each polling place. One with the text: “If you mess up, please come ask for a new ballot”. One with a giant bubble filled in properly.

    bsimon: The only feasible way to demand a majority vote is if we only have 2 parties, or else a system that is so dominated by those 2 as to basically make the others meaningless.

    I’m perfectly happy not having Pawlenty/etc. get a majority. I didn’t vote for the Rep. or DFL candidate. Too many people choose between Rep/DFL rather than for their heart-felt choice, to avoid “throwing away” their vote. Their desperate dive for one of the 2 ‘major’ candidates could be avoided, if they had the courage of their convictions.

    Improve the system (unrealistic): get more people to vote for other parties.