Tag Archives: Minnesota Secretary of State

Some non-partisan notes on 2014 votes

Have you ever found yourself alone and clueless in the voting booth, suddenly aware that there are whole columns of unknown candidates vying for positions you never knew existed? There’s an app for that!

My Ballot is now up and running for the November 4th election. The site provides the voter with a sample ballot complete with links to popular sites that provide information about each candidate. It covers any election in the state of Minnesota.

Find My Ballot at www.myballot.info – Enter your zip code and you’ll find the exact replica of the ballot you’ll face in the voting booth – with a digital crib sheet. You can’t vote online, but you can prepare yourself to make the best decisions when your turn comes.

Still, for some Minnesotans, getting to the polls this season will present a mighty challenge. The October 10 issue of Access Press, now on the newsstands, shines light on a harsh reality — voters with disabilities can’t depend on a lift to the polls this year. Since 2008 the Rides to the Polls Coalition, made up of several disability service providers and organized through Courage Kenny, has been funded by the Frey Foundation to provide rides to persons with disabilities. Those funds are no more, and no other provider has been able to continue the service.

The Secretary of State’s office encourages voters who need transportation to the polling place to contact family, friends or neighbors. It would seem appropriate to reverse the message to encourage mobile Minnesotans to consider family members, friends and neighbors who might need a ride.

Though Metro Transit in the Twin Cities must offer regular fixed-route transit service free of charge on Election Days the rule does not apply in non-urban areas. In some communities political parties provide rides.  In any event, this patchwork approach falls far short of the need, particularly since people with disabilities have long depended on the Rides to the Polls Coalition.

One option is for voters with disabilities to vote absentee by mail or by going to an elections office prior to Election Day. This means people need to know the rules of absentee voting in advance. For the rules on absentee voting and everything else you ever wanted to know about Minnesota election law and were afraid to ask, check Ballotpedia where the Secretary of State posts all the rules: http://ballotpedia.org/Minnesota_elections,_2014#Voting_absentee




Capitol Coders Share Open Government Ideas & Apps

You can’t keep a good Minnesota activist down!  Saturday’s Capitol Code, initiated by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, drew a public-spirited crowd of open government enthusiasts who braved the slipperiest streets in the hemisphere to share ideas, tools and apps.  The free and open event at Uptown Cocoa was well organized by state staffers and Bill Bushey of OpenTC’s.  The buzz of the worker bees at Uptown CoCo offered a lively take on the information chain at work as data and ideas flowed to and from policy makers, data producers, app developers and the public.

It was a chance to view close up,  then reflect upon, the real-time evolution of the two disparate forces:  1) the two-way interaction between the government and the governed and 2) the marriage between information (the content) and communications (the exchange).  Putting these two forces together, it is clear that the challenge du jour is to create conditions that support the constant and mutually supportive role of information and communication technology to effectively achieve the shared goal to serve the public good of a democratic people.

The parallel paths of governance and technology are restructuring the world order as we the people blink in awe. Till now the public has watched the inextricable growth of the information and communications industries.  Policy makers and the massive structures of implementation they have shaped have struggled breathlessly to keep apace while citizens are lost in a sea of acronyms – technical and bureaucratic.

For the corporate world, it’s match between producer and consumer is as obvious as it is profitable.  Unfettered by the intrusion of the vox populi, the unbridled power of wealth swoops in to consummate the marriage made in heaven.  Policy makers concerned about the public good and hamstrung by the slow-moving wheels of government, may find the relationship more problematic.

Tough as it may be, it’s time for the people to get a grip on our unalienable rights and our responsibility to defend those rights.  It’s time to butt in.  Accepting the fact that our forefathers got it right about our democratic government being based on an informed people, we need to keep an eye on how that information flows.  We need to care about how the information resource on which we depend – as individuals and as a nation — is first produced, then made accessible to the voting public in a format that is useful and usable.  That means everything from how the research agenda is determined to the format of the message to the free flow of information to the preservation of the public record.

We need to tend to the sources of information and to the channels of communication.  Above all, we need to hold accountable those charged with establishing and enforcing policy, the elected representatives of the people at every level of government.

The bad news – it’s complicated – obviously, we need to understand the tool.  What’s more, we need to know something about the responsibilities and the power flow among the levels of government.  We also need to be paying attention.

The good news, we don’t all need to understand the intricacies.  There are squadrons of good government organizations that tend to the mechanics.

What we need to do is to keep a critical eye on the process and the watchdogs, including the media, and to hold the system as a whole accountable.   Though nobody said it was easy, the burgeoning crop of hackers who participated in this weekend’s Capitol Code can attest to the fact that it can be a lot of fun!


Pew Probe Proves Minnesotans Have Polling Practices Down Pat

Unaccustomed as we are to patting ourselves on the back, Minnesotans can take pride in the results of the recent Elections Performance Index issued by the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Minnesota joins Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin in the winners’ circle of high performing states.

The Pew study is the first examination of election administration performance that covers all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

The results of the study is a detailed – and fun – online interactive map that election officials and voters can use to assess the details of election performance by each state.

The goal of Pew is to build a flexible and manageable measurement tool based on a well-defined list of indicators.

The findings of the study are based on a methodology carefully defined and described in the full report.  Key indicators include these:

>      Polling location wait time

>      Availability of voting information tools online

>      Number of rejected voter registrations

>      Percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot problems

>      Number of military and overseas ballots were rejected

>      Voter turnout

>      Accuracy of voting technology

This report is based on the 2008 and 2010 elections.  Researchers indicate that the online report will be updated with complete 2012 data when they become available in late 2013.



Minnesota’s Voter ID Amendment – The Trojan Horse Has Left the Gate

Minnesotans are accustomed to a fair and honest election process that encourages citizens to vote.  Under the direction of the Secretary of State, the election supported by a host of advocacy groups ranging from the venerable League of Women Voters and vigorous political parties to groups representing newly-enfranchised high school and college students and immigrants who hail from elsewhere but now call Minnesota home, citizens with physical or language barriers, those who are homeless, homebound, elderly, impoverished or who live outside the social or political loop.

The right to participate in this open process that most Minnesotans enjoy – and in which too few participate – is hard won by state officials, advocacy groups, the faith community, school groups and promoters of lifelong voting have long taken pride in the participatory process which they have collectively wrought.

Like the people of Troy, we sleep in the smug confidence that we are at peace.  With alarm, we are slowly waking to the harsh reality that, as State Representative Ryan Winkler metaphorically warns, the Trojan Horse is at the gate.

At this writing, the challenge is to hold the Trojan Horse at bay.  Advocacy groups are challenging the action of the IR Legislature to put the Voter ID Amendment on the November ballot.  This week the challenge has moved to the Supreme Court which has no option but to take it on.  Many hold out hope that the Amendment will not make it to the ballot.

And so we slumber on

Meanwhile, Amendment supporters push on with their impassioned case for passage.  The Voter ID Amendment, they maintain, will prevent the unfit – immigrants, felons, the homeless, elderly Minnesotans who have never had an ID, and those who don’t deserve the privilege anyway – to step aside and make way for Real Minnesotans, i.e. those who have a valid state issued ID.

Some of those who proposed and many of the legislators who bought their misinformed stories of malfeasance, may think they are doing what’s best for Minnesotans – though they  may have experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance as proponent Dan McGrath advised a Moral Majority audience that the “Voter ID is something that the polls show people want.  [Opponents] are afraid of the will of the people.  They’re afraid to let people vote.”

Intrepid opponents of the Voter ID Amendment will heed the ancient admonition: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. (Though the aphorism may be politically incorrect in these troubled times, it works here as the mythological metaphor.)

From the perspective of opponents, the Voter ID ruckus offers a “teachable moment”, a time when people on both sides of the issue recognize that this sound and fury must signify something.  Voter promotion efforts – get-out-the-vote and voter registration – present untapped opportunities to inform and educate citizens about the struggle for voting rights, the challenges and the ways in which the state-issued Voter ID is a potential threat to citizens’ exercise of their rights.  Some possibilities to ponder:

  • Recognize upfront that prior censorship is a powerful restraint on nonprofit organizations, the media, even the business community.  Encourage and facilitate their inclusion of nonpartisan discussions of the election process and citizen rights on their programs and in their print and digital publications.  Political discourse need not be partisan.
  • Identify and work with individuals and organizations that reach those who may be disenfranchised by the Amendment – houses of worship, colleges, senior citizen centers, the disabled community, labor unions, youth groups, outreach efforts to felons who have paid their debt, the homeless who cannot obtain a state-issued ID  – not to mention immigrant communities in desperate need of affirmative action.  Ethnic groups that share an interest gather often and everywhere – leaders need programs that meet their constituents’ needs.  Carpe diem!
  • Monitor what’s happening in the courts, starting with oral arguments now set for July 17.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has asked the state to deal with the imponderable – to change or to quash the proposed Amendment.  Circle July 17 on the calendar.
  • Pressure the media to face the tide of misinformation with solid investigative reporting and nonpartisan, unbiased coverage of voter validation and other issues related to the electoral process.  Contribute corrections and alternative views via the editorial page.
  • Explain in concrete terms that the teams of Trojan Horses are at states throughout the nation.  Florida is – and has been –a bellwether.
  • Stress the high cost of Voter ID implementation – costs that not only preclude those who cannot afford the personal burden but which impose a heavy burden on the general public.
  • Factor in the complexity of barriers to obtaining a state-issued ID –e.g. the need for rides to the polls, dependence on public transit, or reliance on scheduled transit for homebound or institutionalized individuals, language differences, work schedules, child care, physical challenges…The list goes on – talk with those who know the territory.
  • Share the resources within reach.  Start with the Office of the Secretary of State, a position currently held by Mark Ritchie, a voter advocate at heart and the individual ultimately responsible for implementing the process determined by the Legislature. Check out other resources including, but not limited to, Common Cause, ACLU of Minnesota, the Federal Elections Legal Network,  League of Women Voters of Minnesota and Jewish Community Action.
  • Tell the concerned to check out more proximate resources including the rich menu of programs and publications related to voter rights and sources of information and assistance.
  • Get creative – here the prize may go to MPIRG, the student activist group at the U of M that has proposed two incentives to student voters – that students get an excused absence to vote OR that the University declare Election Day a free day at the University.
  • If, in spite of the erstwhile efforts of concerned Minnesotans, the Voter ID amendment should get the voters’ nod, maintain the pace!   There is cold comfort in the reality that the devil is in the details, details to be crafted by the Legislature in the year to come. It’s not over till the last legislator signs – Keep up the pressure to defend the rights of every Minnesota citizen.