Republican secretary of state candidate Dan Severson said members of the military from Minnesota should be able to vote online.
"Today, we are giving voice to those who put their lives on the line for us," Severson said Tuesday.
Severson is running against state Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, and the Independence Party's Bob Helland for the office that DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will leave next year.
A former member of the Minnesota House who narrowly lost to Ritchie in 2010, Severson said he would like Minnesota to adopt Arizona's model to allow members of the military to vote online. He said he did not know the cost of bringing such technology to Minnesota, but believes it would not be hard to acquire.
Simon, the chair of the House Elections committee, said he is open to the idea of allowing military members to vote online but such a program should be handled very slowly, given concerns about the potential for voter fraud.
Simon also said that Minnesota has long given bipartisan support to measures to make it easy for troops to vote.
Unlike most absentee-ballot voters, military members can receive their ballots by e-mail and submit them by postal service, without having them witnessed, he said.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Severson said military members were "conspicuously excluded" from the new absentee-ballot law, which allows anyone to vote absentee whether or not they can show up at the polls on Election Day.
"Every military person that's overseas has to put an excuse on the ballot," Severson said.
Not so, according to Nathan Bowie, spokesman for the secretary of state.
"That is simply not true. It is inaccurate. And that very inaccuracy … calls into question [Severson's] qualifications for this office," said Simon.
The new absentee-ballot law won bipartisan support when it passed the Legislature and, Simon noted, has been promoted by all candidates.
Severson also said he would support allowing members of the military to vote on state and local offices.
"This is such an important provision here that we should be inclusive here because they have a home," Severson said.
According to the secretary of state's office, military personnel and their dependents and citizens temporarily living overseas can already vote in federal, state and local elections. Only citizens who live overseas permanently are restricted to just voting on federal offices.
Following Severson's news conference, DFL-Party chair Ken Martin said Severson appeared to be "fond of conspiracy."
He noted that as a member of the Minnesota House from 2002 to 2008 Severson did not sponsor any legislation regarding military voting. Severson acknowledged that but said he only became aware of the problems he believes exist in troops' voting access when he was running for office in 2010.
According to the secretary of state's office, the number of military members who cast ballots that were counted in elections has increased from the 2008 to the 2012 elections. In 2008, a presidential election year, 3,395 voters who identified themselves as military voters had ballots accepted. The number of ballots from military members jumped to 3,404 in 2012, another presidential election year. The percentage and number of those ballots rejected also went down.
Severson also noted that the military voter turnout dropped between 2008 and 2010.