Kiffmeyer: Almost a third of 2002 outstate primary ballots thrown out
There's a substantial chance if you voted in the 2002 primary election in outstate Minnesota that your vote didn't count. Speaking to "University for Seniors" at the University of Minnesota Duluth Tuesday, Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffme...
There's a substantial chance if you voted in the 2002 primary election in outstate Minnesota that your vote didn't count.
Speaking to "University for Seniors" at the University of Minnesota Duluth Tuesday, Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said that 22 percent of all ballots in that election were thrown out -- most of them because citizens voted in the primary elections of more than one party. Minnesota law allows primary voters to vote for the candidates of only one party in those races where candidates are identified by party.
Kiffmeyer said that the spoiled ballots are mostly being cast in outstate Minnesota, where she estimated that up to a third of the ballots are being thrown out. Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the percentage of ballots being rejected is only .001 percent, she said.
The difference is in the voting equipment being used. In the Twin Cities, when voters cast ballots in more than one party's primary, the voting machine will immediately reject the ballot. In outstate Minnesota, many ballots are still hand-counted. The ballots are not rejected until the end of the day after the election judges remove them from the ballot boxes for counting.
Kiffmeyer said that when the modern equipment is installed, she has heard from many judges a similar story. A voter's ballot is rejected, and the voter immediately says the machine has malfunctioned. When a judge points out that the voter crossed over and voted for candidates of more than one party, the voter says, "I voted the same way I always voted. It was good enough before."
Kiffmeyer said that such ballots have been rejected ever since the law took effect many years ago. She said, "The immediate lesson of that equipment teaches them a lesson that we can't."
The problem is less severe during the November general election, but here again, rural Minnesota is losing votes, she said, estimating that 2 percent of outstate ballots are spoiled compared to .001 percent in the metro area.
Duluth City Clerk Jeff Cox said that Duluth has been using machines like those in the metro area since 1989. The machines reject errant ballots immediately, and the voter is allowed to correct the ballot. Thus, the number of rejected ballots within the city is quite small.
Because of the problems with the 2000 presidential election in Florida, Congress has passed the Help America Vote Act. Out of that bill, Minnesota will receive $38 million for new voting equipment. The equipment will be installed, Kiffmeyer said, in time for the 2006 election, but that no equipment is being purchased for 2004.
Kiffmeyer said that the problems in Florida resulted primarily because that state did not have uniform standards between counties for what constituted a vote and what didn't.
Minnesota is unlike that, she said, because it has established statewide standards.
A few states have moved toward electronic balloting. Kiffmeyer cited Georgia, Florida and Maryland, but she said that Minnesota is not moving in that direction. The basis of the Minnesota voting system, she said, is still a paper ballot that can be hand-counted, if necessary.
Another part of the federal legislation is that the state has to create a centralized voter registration system by 2006. The cities, counties and townships are all working hard to achieve that, she said, by using uniform reporting standards when submitting voter lists to the state.
Kiffmeyer said that she believes a voting system has to be based upon four pillars, access, accuracy, privacy and integrity. Those four pillars must be in balance, she said, so that an excess of one does not weaken the others.
She said Minnesota has the highest degree of access in the world, and that the state's level of accuracy is "pretty good."
With regard to privacy, she said the state is moving toward getting digital audio readers to help the blind so that another person will not have to read the ballot to them.
Kiffmeyer said that the state has no shortage of election judges, but that the average age of the judges is 70. She continues to encourage more people to apply to be judges, particularly young adults. All judges must go through two hours of training.