By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Judging from the confusion and misinformation surrounding the September 14 primaries, the decision by Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer not to seek a waiver from the federal Help America Vote Act is looking increasingly foolish.
"A fairly large number of my constituents--much more so than in the past--have said to me that they were told they were not registered when they went to the polls, when in fact they had made it a point to register beforehand," says state Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis). "I have a clear impression of an attempt to suppress voters, at least among the people I represent."
Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe who is currently running for the Minneapolis School Board, says that she registered to vote four times between February and August of this year, yet only got her confirmation card a few weeks after her final effort.
"There's tremendous confusion out there," she says. "For example, I've heard so many different opinions about whether tribal ID cards are a valid way to register. Some people were able to use them and some were turned away. Some were told they are valid only in the county where the [American Indian] reservations are located and we don't have any reservations in Hennepin County. To be honest, we're still trying to clear that up."
Flanagan goes on to tell of a phone call she received on the morning of the primary from a friend who had just moved to Minnesota. The friend had brought her old driver's license and a slip of paper from the state showing her new address, only to be told it wasn't valid ID. Flanagan had the friend call the Minneapolis elections office, and she was assured she had sufficient identification.
"She went back [to the polls] and told them about the call and so she was able to vote," Flanagan says. "But what about a single mom with only a limited amount of time and resources to get to polls?"
Are such stories a matter of simple partisanship from Clark and Flanagan--both staunch DFLers from Minneapolis? Nope. Luci Botzek, the administrator and legislative counsel for the Minnesota Association of County Officers--and a registered Republican--says, "I have heard anecdotally from about 10 counties where there were allegedly some voters who should have been on roster and were not. The problem is, the turnout was so low that it is hard to detect who is missing and why."
Botzek points to stress on the voter registration system. "I am hearing considerable frustration from all over the state that the system is operating very slowly and is rejecting information that should be going into the system; that information is disappearing overnight," Botzek continues. "I have e-mail from a variety of folks who say they are struggling with the system. These people are county election administrators."
Kent Kaiser of Kiffmeyer's office maintains that the primaries went smoothly. "We haven't heard of many problems with people who say they have registered and have found that they are not on the list," he counters. "But if you have examples of individuals who claim they weren't on the registration list when they had registered, we'd love to have those names forwarded so we can investigate what happened in the process."
Kaiser explains that in some cases, the names of voters who registered within 20 days of the primaries may not have been entered into the system in time. He also notes mix-ups with the state's Department of Vehicle Services when people update their driver's licenses. Finally, he claims that often organizations that run voter-registration drives "aren't turning the cards in in a timely fashion." In other words, the secretary of state's office is accepting no blame.
At any rate, the rollout of the system in phases is, at best, a huge headache. And nobody's even talking of lost votes--yet. "They continue to do rewrites, so it is a learning curve and a familiarity curve," Botzek says. It sounds like an ideal situation for a federal waiver in order to work the kinks out. But Kiffmeyer's inaction has scuttled that option.
Meanwhile, the Senate Elections Committee will hold hearings on Thursday morning in Room 15 at the Capitol in an attempt to determine how and why the system isn't functioning smoothly. Kiffmeyer has been asked by the committee to attend the meeting.
In any event, if you plan on voting November 2, bring plenty of identification and pack a lunch. "The county and city election administrators will make sure that everybody who wants to vote will vote," assures Botzek. "But there might be very long lines at polls--and voters should not assume they are already registered."