Secretary of State Mark Ritchie wants to eliminate automatic recounts and tighten the vote margin that triggers recounts, he said today.

Ritchie, who oversaw several recounts in 2008 and chaired the state Canvassing Board that certified the U.S. Senate election results now being contested in court, laid out his legislative agenda today at the Capitol.

Among other things, he wants to make it possible for eligible voters to register when they apply for a driver's license or state identification card, initiate an early-voting program allowing people to cast their ballots up to several days before an election, and give voters a chance to register online.

But Ritchie said his proposals to reform the state's recount procedures have the greatest potential for passage this year, owing to the importance and attention paid to the six-week Senate recount that ended with Al Franken 225 votes ahead of Norm Coleman.

Whether that can happen with the Legislature focused on the state's huge deficit, is another matter, he said.

Ritchie said he wants to change state law to permit recounts for contests when the vote margin is one-quarter percent of all ballots cast, rather than one-half percent. A candidate would then have to request a recount, rather than have it automatically triggered, he said.

Such rules may reduce the number of frivolous recounts, although it wouldn't have made a difference in the Senate race, where only 700 votes initially separated the candidates.

Ritchie also wants to clearly define what qualifies as an identifying mark on a ballot, one of a number of questions that Canvassing Board members faced when they individually judged thousands of challenged ballots in December.

The secretary's proposals also include changes in the use of absentee ballots, thousands of which were rejected under disputed circumstances in the election. In-person early-voting would decrease their numbers, Ritchie said. Also, signature matches now required could be replaced with matching ID numbers similar to the process now used by military personnel who cast absentee ballots.

Asked whether it might be better for the state to adopt a run-off election system in the event of a close race, similar to those used in other states, Ritchie said that run-offs cost far more than recounts.

Moreover, a run-off -- a subsequent election held between the top two candidates in a tight race -- may require a recount itself to determine the winner, he said.

Ritchie didn't list a price tag with his proposals, but said that at least some of them would actually save money due to greater efficiency.

Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164