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Our View: Attend election law meeting

Thursday evening at 7 p.m., Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, Minnesota's chief election officer, will preside at a meeting in the Kirby Student Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The topic of discussion will be Minnesota's election laws.

Thursday evening at 7 p.m., Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, Minnesota's chief election officer, will preside at a meeting in the Kirby Student Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The topic of discussion will be Minnesota's election laws. All citizens interested in preventing in Minnesota the kind of fiasco that resulted in Florida from inadequate election laws, who have concerns or questions about existing Minnesota law or who want to reduce the role of the judiciary in deciding Minnesota elections should attend the meeting.
In at least two ways, Minnesota election law is superior to Florida's. First, in Minnesota all absentee ballots must be at the precinct by Election Day. This prevents any question about postmarks or the lack thereof, and it prevents any delay in the counting of ballots. Second, Minnesota has no punch card ballots, so there is never any debate over "swinging chads," "hanging chads," "dimpled chads," etc. Ninety-two percent of Minnesotans vote through an optical scan system. Eight percent still vote through the traditional marked paper ballot, which is then counted by hand.
Where Minnesota law falls short is in establishing standards for recounts. In Minnesota, recounts in districts contained entirely within the borders of one county are conducted by the county canvassing board. If the district covers more than one county, then the state canvassing board conducts the recount. In legislative races, an automatic recount is triggered if the initial vote count has a margin of less than 100 votes. However, there is no standard for statewide or congressional elections. Once the state canvassing board finishes counting, the only way for a recount is to contest the result in district court.
The Minnesota State Canvassing Board includes the Secretary of State, two justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court and two district court judges. A county canvassing board includes the county auditor, the district court administrator, two county commissioners and the mayor or town council chair of the county's largest municipality. Those canvassing boards set their own standards for determining what constitutes a good vote, and what will be thrown out.
Although we suggested in our last issue that the only possible "good" solution to the presidential recount in Florida -- "good" in the sense that it would allow some degree of "legitimacy" to be bestowed on the new president -- would be for Al Gore to fail to overtake George W. Bush, we are now convinced that no matter what happens, a cloud will hang over the next president. Gore failed to overtake Bush, but this result came about without complete hand recounts in two of the three counties in which the Gore campaign was contesting the results. Not surprisingly, Gore is back in court.
His protests are not a result of any fraud by Bush, but because of inadequate Florida law.
The credibility of our entire electoral system, the foundation of our republic, has been put at risk. Minnesotans cannot set Florida law, but we can make sure that what happened there is not repeated in some future election here.
If you have concerns, attend Thursday's meeting.

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