Minnesota again led the nation in voter participation this year, with 76 percent of eligible voters casting ballots in the general election. While the state's election system is consistently one of the best in the world, it still has some room for improvement.
The large number of people voting before election day, coupled with the long lines and waiting times at polling places, demonstrates the growing demand from voters to have more convenience in exercising their rights. Early voting will reduce congestion at polling places and simplify the system of voting before election day while providing voters with more convenience and the confidence that their vote will be counted.
The writer of a recent Star Tribune commentary ("State already is a step ahead on early voting," Dec. 5) stated that implementing an early voting system in Minnesota is an ill-conceived idea and that a simple change to our absentee voting process would be sufficient to provide more flexibility. The absentee voting process may be a good option for some, but expanding our voting options to include early voting will better reflect the lives of voters in the 21st century and will provide voters with more time to cast their vote.
When voters casts their ballots in person, they have the opportunity to immediately put the ballot into the voting machine, which notifies them of any errors on the ballot, providing an opportunity to make a correction and ensure that their vote is counted. An absentee voter does not have that protection.
Similar to "no excuse" absentee voting, early voting does not require voters to indicate why they are choosing to vote prior to election day. The distinct advantage to early voting is that the process of voting is the same as it is on election day, only it happens earlier. The same safeguards would be in place to protect the integrity of our elections. The process of voting by absentee ballot, meanwhile, can often be confusing and is prone to a higher rate of errors.
The previous commentary expressed concerns about people not being able to change their votes under an early voting system and said that the absentee voting process would still allow for this. Very few voters change their minds after casting an absentee ballot, and if we do move toward an early voting system, those who think they might change their minds will still be able to vote absentee instead.
Another common concern is that early vote totals published ahead of time could discourage voters from turning out on election day. However, in Minnesota, we don't register by political party, and vote totals wouldn't be election results for each candidate, but simply the total number of votes cast.
Voting is one of our most important constitutional rights and the foundation of our democracy. Thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia currently offer some form of early voting. Early voting addresses a demand from Minnesotans whose busy work schedules and personal lives can conflict with their ability to cast their votes.
As the incoming chair of the State Senate Subcommittee on Elections, I look forward to hearing from the public as we discuss early voting policy at the State Capitol in 2013.
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Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, is the assistant majority leader-designate of the Minnesota Senate.