Accusations about improper election procedures have been hurled with abandon by combatants in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate battle, which enters its recount phase today. But it’s worth noting that neither the Al Franken nor Norm Coleman camps has accused election officials of allowing significant numbers of ineligible people to vote. The two campaigns’ close scrutiny of events on Nov. 4 apparently has found nothing notably defective in either the voter registration or sign-in that occurred at the polls.
That’s the way it has been in every election since Minnesota began allowing voters to register at the polls in 1973. Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said that, in his 24 years as a state and county elections administrator, the number of cases of orchestrated group efforts to subvert the law by registering improperly or voting multiple times has been “exactly zero.”
“There has been the occasional individual” who attempted to vote when or where he or she was not eligible. “But we have their driver’s license or their Social Security numbers,” or other means of detecting inaccurate registrations. “We find them and we prosecute them,” he said. Stiff penalties — voter registration fraud is a felony, punished by up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both, and a lifetime criminal record — are an effective deterrent to mischief. “No rational person would deliberately violate this law,” Mansky said.
But the absence of evidence of such wrongdoing hasn’t deterred the “traditional values” group that calls itself Minnesota Majority. The group announced Monday that it is filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice about duplications and other “irregularities” in the state’s voter registration records.
Its argument rests more on suspicion than fact. It claims that if registration records are not error-free before Election Day, improper voting is bound to occur. The remedy it seeks: elimination of Election Day registration and a requirement that a photo ID card be shown before someone is allowed to vote.
Those proposals are wildly out of proportion to the problem they purport to solve — so much so that those who promote them stand fairly accused of trying to suppress turnout. They would particularly disadvantage the very young, the elderly and the poor — people whose ability to influence government deserves to be safeguarded, not denied.
Minnesotans have relied on the availability of Election Day registration for 35 years and have demonstrated their appreciation for the option by exercising it in large numbers. In recent years, more people have registered at the polls than during the preregistration period. In Minneapolis this year, 50,505 of more than 208,000 voters registered at the polls.
Minnesota has been a leader among states in tearing down barriers to voting, and regularly has the nation’s highest voter turnout to show for it. That affords this state much more than bragging rights. A big, broad electorate is this state’s most potent force for the nurture and defense of the common good. Minnesotans should be wary of any proposals that would place an impediment between the people and the polls.