Common Cause advises voting changes

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2009 - 10:03 PM

Simplify registration, improve training of election judges and allow more time to cast absentee ballots.

A citizens' lobby dedicated to improving the way state government operates has suggested that Minnesota election law be changed to simplify the voting registration process, to improve training of election judges and to allow voters more time to cast ballots before the general election.

The recommendations were in a 14-page report released on Tuesday by Common Cause Minnesota, which reviewed problems during the 2008 general election and the contentious recount battle between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

The most glaring issue, according to the Minnesota Election Report, centers on 12,000 rejected absentee ballots, some of which were rightfully rejected while others were improperly rejected. In some cases, ballots were rejected because a voter didn't check a box to indicate the reason for voting absentee, or voters were given the wrong ballot packet, or dates provided by a witness did not match that of the voter.

State law requires that absentee ballots be sent out 30 days before an election, but that does not give military personnel or citizens who are overseas enough time to receive the ballots and return them in a timely fashion, the report said. This year, about 10 percent of absentee ballots were not returned on time.

The Pew Center for the States recommends that states give absentee voters 45 days to return ballots to provide a cushion in the event of unforeseen delays. To do that, Minnesota would need to move its primary from September to June or May so as to not interfere with high vacation season, the report said.

A second problem concerned election judges who told college students who attempted same-day registration that their student identification card was not a valid form of identification, even though state law allows them to use it along with other documents to register on-site.

In other cases, voters were allegedly denied language assistance and elderly and disabled voters were not given assistance in filling out their ballots. Other voters found their names had been removed from the rolls, while others were not listed because of typographical errors in registration records, the report said.

The report recommended that the state adopt a "No Excuse Mail-in Voting," which would allow any individual to vote by mail without the need for an excuse. Under current law, voters requesting an absentee ballot must choose one of four reasons for voting early. The new provision would increase participation and make it easier for absentee voters, the report said.

Another suggestion made by Common Cause was that Minnesota follow the lead of 32 other states and allow early voting. That would shorten lines at the polls on Election Day by allowing voters to cast ballots when it's convenient for them.

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