Minnesota: For secretary of state, Simon: Pioneer Press editorial
Pioneer Press
Posted:   10/23/2014

Major-party candidates in the race for Minnesota secretary of state represent two sides in the nation’s long-running debate over election law.

Democrat Steve Simon seeks access and increased turnout; his Republican opponent, Dan Severson, raises concerns about security and prevention of fraud.

We support Simon, a state House member from Hopkins, with this caveat: Nothing should compromise the integrity and nonpartisanship Minnesotans expect from the state’s chief elections officer.

As we’ve maintained on these pages, access and security are not mutually exclusive goals. The secretary of state must work to assure both, providing access to elections while ensuring that only lawfully cast ballots are counted.

Although the office is charged with other key responsibilities, including some to the state’s business community, its highest- profile duties in recent years have included a major role in controversial recounts, including the epic 2008-09 legal battle that ended with the election of Sen. Al Franken by 312 votes and the recount that decided the 2010 governor’s race in Mark Dayton’s favor.

It’s worth remembering that although the secretary of state is elected in a partisan process, he or she then is expected to be a fair, un-biased arbiter of disputes.

Simon agrees that voters expect the secretary of state to put partisanship aside, something he told the editorial board he has accomplished at the Capitol in seeking support across the aisle for election reforms.

Simon’s legislative record includes chairing the House Elections Committee and championing “no excuse” absentee balloting, new this election cycle.

The candidate says he’s encouraged by the number of absentee ballot requests — more than 152,000 as of Wednesday morning — and the convenience of a system that allows Minnesotans to request their ballots online and then vote from home.

We’re not convinced, however, that democracy is necessarily well served by voting “from the couch,” where citizen involvement is yet another step removed.

Simon this week announced proposals he outlined as the “next generation” of election reform. Included are automating the voter registration option for those applying for or renewing a driver’s license and expanding early voting to decrease congestion at the polls. That proposal, he says, also would relieve voters’ concerns that an absentee ballot might be rejected because of an error in paperwork.

Opponent Severson — a former Navy pilot and former House member representing the Sauk Rapids area — supported the voter ID constitutional amendment that Minnesotans defeated in 2012.

Severson also ran for secretary of state in 2010, losing to incumbent Mark Ritchie by just 3.5 percentage points — and winning more votes than Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

“Without clean elections, we don’t have a democracy,” Severson told us. His plan for his first 100 days in office includes calling for an audit of the voting system.

“Severson solutions” include a so-called express-lane voting proposal aimed at speeding through voting lines those willing to show an ID.

Whoever wins — candidates also include Bob Helland of the Independence Party and the Libertarian Party’s Bob Odden — will need to deal with aspects of Minnesota’s voting process that are problematic.

The state remains an outlier when it comes to “vouching,” the process under which a registered voter from your precinct can go with you to the polling place to sign an oath confirming your address. A registered voter can vouch for up to eight others, according to the secretary of state’s website.

Provisional ballots, counted only after registration is verified, would better secure the system, and eliminate the primary potential problem with vouching: that a vouched vote, once cast, is in for the count regardless of whether registration is ultimately verified or not.

Technology also may help resolve some of Minnesota’s election issues. Transition to electronic poll books, for example, could provide “a political win-win,” Simon told us.

Although cost is an issue, e-poll-book advocates say they’ll add another tool against voter fraud, cut wait times and reduce errors from data now entered manually, according to a Pioneer Press report.

For all of us, voting is a cherished institution. Vote to protect it on Nov. 4.