DFLers are Asking Courts to Change Voting Rules, Without the Nuisance of Legislation
By Kim Crockett
Maybe you already know who you want to vote for in 2020. But given concerns about COVID-19, how will you vote? In person at the polls on Election Day? Or will you vote by absentee ballot?
If you vote by absentee ballot, an increasingly popular choice even before COVID-19, you can drop your ballot off in person, mail it or give it to someone to deliver.
While COVID-19 is driving an increase in absentee voting, you should know that the laws governing absentee ballots are very much in play — and not in a good way. Some laws are not being followed, and others are being revised by judges, without the benefit of the legislative process.
First, Minnesota’s “ballot board” laws are not being followed by some election officials in the state, nor are they being enforced by Secretary of State Steve Simon.
Following the long and messy recount in 2008 between senatorial candidates Al Franken and Norm Coleman, when 12,000 absentee ballots were rejected, Minnesota lawmakers voted almost unanimously to require that absentee ballots be accepted or rejected by ballot boards made up of election judges from “the major political parties.”
The idea is that having a judge from each major party helps keep the count fair and honest.
In 2013, the Legislature expressly eliminated a provision that had allowed city or county staff to serve on absentee ballot boards. Employees who earn their living from the city or county and have connections to elected officials were recognized as being susceptible to political bias, so the Legislature decided it was better to use election judges from competing parties.
Ballot boards were designed to eliminate delay, drama and uncertainty, and to ensure fairness so citizens have confidence in the results, especially when elections are very close.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance, which seeks to increase voter participation by protecting the integrity of elections, discovered that ballot board laws are not uniformly followed. In some cities and counties, ballot boards are not even being appointed, let alone staffed with election judges from the major parties.
MVA filed suit against Minneapolis, Duluth, and Olmsted and Ramsey counties, arguing that Simon has implemented a system contrary to the intent of the Legislature, one in which city or county staff accept and reject ballots behind closed doors without any citizen election judge oversight or party balance.