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Election judge instructions go too far

Posted by: Updated: November 6, 2012 - 2:30 PM

Several people have contacted Whistleblower, noting that election judges were giving guidance on the amendment measures on the ballot.

Paul Lundquist, who voted at the Prior Lake City Hall, wrote: “A voter in front me posed a question to the person handing out ballots. Her question related to the meaning of the amendment item for voter ID. The election official properly reread the ballot item for the voter, but then it went wrong: the voter asked ‘so by voting yes, I am voting for the system to be just like it is today.’ The election official’s response: ‘yes.’"

Jennifer Day, who voted at Coon Rapids Evangelical Free Church said that the election judge handing out ballots was telling people, “don’t forget to vote on the amendments.”
He was the only election judge giving voters that instruction, she said, and she felt it was leading voters.

“I was really angry about it,” she said. “I felt like he was pushing people that maybe if they weren’t sure which way they were going to go, and might leave it blank, like he was trying to make sure that didn’t happen It felt inappropriate to me because it was only the amendment he was talking about.”

Pat Turgeon, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Secretary of State's office said Election Director Gary Poser had given the following instructions for county auditors to share with city clerks and election judges:

"Some counties have asked how election judges should explain the effect of not voting on a proposed Constitutional Amendment.  There should be nothing for election judges to explain orally about the constitutional amendments.  The instruction wording is printed on the ballot above the constitutional amendments.  If voters ask about the proposed amendments, election judges should point to this language without any further explanation to avoid influencing how the voter votes.  As always, you may want to consult with your county attorney if you have questions about this matter.”

Turgeon also said the office is following up on all such concerns.

Mike Pignato is an attorney at Dorsey & Whitney, LLP and a board member for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is leading the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition in Minnesota. He said Tuesday afternoon that concerns about election judges' instructions to voters were among the most common reports his organization had received so far on Election Day, and that complaints had cropped up mainly in five Minnesota counties: Anoka, Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin and Itasca.

"Our concern is that the election be administered consistently within each county or each city, and the reports we’re getting are indicating that judges are not necessarily following the directions given to them by the county officials," he said. "The instructions are on the ballot, and the election judge shouldn’t be isolating any particular vote, any particular candidate or intitiative out of the rest of the ballot and draw attention to any specific issue. That arguably constitutes electioneering."

UPDATE (from staff reporter Jim Anderson): 

Similar problems with election judges overstepping the rules on voting instructions on the two amendment questions were reported at three Washington County precincts but quickly corrected, said Jennifer Wagenius, the county’s director of property records and taxpayers services, the department which oversees local elections. The problems were reported at polling places in Woodbury, Cottage Grove and Afton.

 “We talked to either the election judge or the official in charge of the polling places,” she said, adding that it can be a fine line for an election judge trying to answer voters’ questions without influencing how they cast their ballots.

 

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