The specter of voter fraud always emerges close to Halloween in big election years. Records of voting complaints in Minnesota from 2004 and 2006 offer reassurances that illegal voting, voter intimidation and the like have been rare in Minnesota. They also show what weird things happen on Election Day.
Voting complaints collected by the office of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie numbered 115 in 2004 and about 62 in 2006. The majority involved voters who had to reregister at the polls because their names were omitted from existing lists or because polling places were poorly marked, relocated or somehow inaccessible. Other complaints: hard-to-read ballots, campaign workers too close to polls, not enough privacy for voters.
Only a few complaints involved allegations of voter fraud, and those were forwarded to county attorneys. The secretary of state doesn't track the outcome of those cases.
Some notable voter complaints from 2004 and 2006:
• An election judge in Apple Valley refused to answer a voter's question about whether a ballot had to be complete to be counted. The state's investigation called it "curmudgeonly behavior," not an illegal act.
• A guy in Faribault said someone attacked him while he voted. "The assault lasted several seconds, was painful and interfered with my election choices," he wrote.
• A Richfield election judge correctly challenged two voters in the Netherlands whose absentee ballots should not have been counted because they didn't really reside in Minnesota.
• A Dassel man was improperly barred from voting because of a past felony, despite the fact that his right had been restored. He died a few weeks after the election and never learned that he was vindicated.
• A Minneapolis man complained that the "I Voted" stickers favored Republicans because of their color. The office's response: Red was chosen by a DFLer for its visibility.
• An Esko woman who was found to have voted twice got a warning from the Carlton County attorney: "We trust this was an isolated incident and an honest mistake. Please be advised, however, that voting twice in the same election is AGAINST THE LAW."
The troubles that crop up typically indicate the need for a response such as more training of election judges, said Beth Fraser, director of governmental affairs for the secretary of state.
"It's a system made up of humans," Fraser said. "For the most part, the local election officials with whom we work, it's just amazing at how seriously they take their responsibility."
If voters want to report problems at the polls, Fraser offers this advice. You can take it up with the election judge at the precinct. You also can call the secretary of state's election hot line: 651-215-1440, or toll free, 1-877-600-8683.
JAMES ELI SHIFFER
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