We know you do not want to hear this, but the 2022 midterm elections are right around the corner. Before engaged citizens and lawmakers turn to other matters, it is worth considering the state of election integrity.
Like the nation, Minnesota is deeply divided; many voters are certain that this was not a clean election. Instead of dismissing their concerns, please hear us out.
If half the population does not believe that the election was fair, Minnesota’s once strong civic fabric will continue to fray. Our entire nation will become even more polarized. We owe it to ourselves and to future voters to fairly assess how we conduct elections.
If we make some adjustments, maybe we can lower the drama and boost confidence in the results.
Our complaint is threefold: 1) Some of Minnesota election laws, designed to ensure fairness, are widely ignored; 2) Secretary of State Steve Simon unilaterally changed the rules of the 2020 election; and 3) the state’s approach to voting, developed over many decades, is vulnerable to fraud and creates uncertainty.
First, state laws adopted after the 2008 recount debacle between U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken have not been enforced since they were enacted a decade ago. Under those laws, just as Election Day polling places are run by city clerks but staffed by DFL and GOP citizen election judges, absentee ballot boards are supposed to be run by knowledgeable clerks but staffed by judges from the opposing major parties.
Given that more than 1.9 million Minnesotans are reported to have voted by absentee ballot this year out of 3.29 million votes, it seems reasonable to consider how those ballots were counted. (By contrast, in the 2016 general election, 676,722 absentee ballots were accepted.)
The law does not limit these citizen judges to clerical work. They are supposed to decide, based on criteria set out in law, which absentee ballots are accepted and which are rejected. It keeps things on the up and up, and is designed to give us confidence in the results.
Yet Ramsey and Olmsted counties are the only counties in the state, that we are aware of, that followed the ballot board party balance law.
Second, Simon changed election laws for 2020 through consent decree and legal settlements brought by activists affiliated with the Democratic National Party. The changes included: a seven-day extension of the absentee ballot count to Nov. 10 (found unconstitutional by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals); a waiver of the postmark requirement for ballots received after the 8 p.m. Nov. 3 deadline (ballots are presumed to be postmarked); and a waiver of the witness requirement for absentee ballots. The secretary also failed to vigorously defend state restrictions on people collecting ballots and helping others vote (the ballot harvesting restriction was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court but restrictions on assisting voters were ruled unconstitutional).
Can we agree on this? An “early” voting period of 46 days is much too long, especially given the need for citizen election judges to staff ballot boards. How much time do we need to vote? Did you know that Minnesotans can request an absentee ballot by mail the day before an election? Or change their mind and get a do-over?
Third and finally, these Election Day voting policies are an open invitation to fraud: lack of voter photo ID especially when offering same-day voter registration; “vouching” to establish voter eligibility; and no provisional balloting (meaning that challenged and potentially ineligible voters are allowed to vote immediately).
We want all eligible voters to vote. But given the challenge of adjusting a vote count after elections are over to weed out ineligible votes, it makes much more sense to do a better job up front with “early” absentee ballots and Election Day voting.
We should all agree on this: Voting should be easy, but cheating should be hard.
Andy Cilek is founder and executive director, and Kim Crockett is legal policy adviser, Minnesota Voters Alliance, a nonpartisan organization focused on election integrity and voter education.