-by Michael McIntee
February 19, 2012- Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is advocating a more secure voting system that potentially could please both sides of the voter photo ID debate.
Republicans want to require Minnesotans to present a photo ID at the polls before they can vote.
Democratic Farmer Laborites say that would discourage people who don’t have a photo ID from voting — many of whom are poor, elderly and/or disabled.
Electronic poll books provide the photo identification of voters that Republicans seek without putting the onus of getting a photo ID on the voters as DFLers despise. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie sees it as a possible bipartisan solution to the issue.
Minnesota made and more secure and less costly than voter photo ID proposal.
During a Senate hearing on Friday, Ritchie described the electronic poll books made by Datacard, a Minnesota company. Like photo ID, the system puts a photo of the potential voter in front of the election judge who can decide whether the person is who they say. But instead of the voter providing the ID, which could be forged, the photo is securely pulled up from Minnesota’s drivers license photo database. The poll book could be on paper or on a computer.
If a person isn’t in the photo database, the person could register and have a photo taken on the spot. Because voting twice in an election is a felony, it’s very unlikely someone would risk being photographed committing the crime.
“The thing that’s important for me is that, number one, it keeps Minnesota number one in terms of leadership in election administration,” Ritchie told a Senate committee. “And number two, it creates that standard of broad bi-partisan support which Representative Benson referred to and Governor Carlson and Pawlenty — all the Governors before — have talked about.”
Ritchie estimates such a system could be implemented in Minnesota for about $10 million. That’s about $30 million less than the estimated cost of a voter photo ID system advocated by Republicans last legislative session.
According to Ritchie, the electronic poll book system could also give people more flexibility for where and when they vote — even allowing you to vote in another county if you can’t make it home for election day. “So this technology (electronic poll book), not so much this (the paper), but would allow that person who doesn’t know you in Kittson County, but who could look at your picture and say ‘hey you’re pretty good looking’, you know because it’s five years old, and say we know your precinct and we can use our ballot printer to print out your exact ballot, finish your procedure and then mark in there that you have cast your ballot and go from there.”
Beth Fraser of the Secretary of State’s office emphasized that the out-of-precinct voting is primarily an option for early voting, and not on election day. “It won’t work on election day because we have more than 4,100 polling places and so having 41-hundred connected computers talking is problematic for a lot of reasons. I mean it’s a capacity issue. It’s also an issue of there are parts of the state that don’t have broadband, said Fraser. “But down the road, not this year, that would potentially be an option.”
Votes would still be made on paper, said Ritchie. “Having conducted a few recounts myself, the advantage of the public being able to see every single ballot ad nauseum is really important.” He said there is too much risk going to electronic balloting as some other states have. “We have been the target of large scale denial of service attacks and sequel injection hacking from China and other places on our business services side and it is a serious thing. I have very experienced computer staff and we have been put down four days in a row. …. the security we need now is way beyond the capacity of a tiny agency to provide.”
Earlier in the week, Fraser had mentioned the system during a Senate hearing on a voter photo ID constitutional amendment. Fraser said the way the amendment had been written, it could not take advantage of new technology such as electronic poll books. The amendment’s author, Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) said the legislature could decide what form of ID would be appropriate at the polls. However, the amendment puts the responsibility on the voter to have the ID.
According to Senator Teri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka ), the Republican House author of the voter photo ID constitutional amendment might support the electronic poll book proposal. “I was in a meeting where Representative (Mary) Kiffmeyer (R- Big Lake ) looked at it. She really likes the proposal. Does that mean she isn’t going to go forward with her proposal (for a constitutional amendment) as well? I don’t think so.”
Republicans are pushing for a voter photo ID constitutional amendment because last year Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, vetoed a similar proposal. When he vetoed the bill, he quoted former Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, who had vetoed election reform legislation because it only had the support of one party. Ritchie hopes this solution will get bipartisan support, which could cause Governor Dayton to put away his veto pen.