Minnesota’s last two governors, Republican Tim Pawlenty and DFLer Mark Dayton, both had an unofficial policy that any changes in the state’s election laws needed broad bipartisan support before they would sign the bills.
“Broad support” means a substantial number from both parties back the change, not just one party with a few mavericks from the other. New Gov. Tim Walz would be wise to follow their guidance on election law reform.
As it is, however, across the United States, calls for changing election laws have been growing. Republicans claim that many fraudulent votes are being cast, and that Democrats are reluctant to investigate. Democrats claim that Republicans are engaging in voter suppression tactics to keep minorities from voting.
Over time, Minnesota has consistently been at or near the top in voter turnout. That suggests that voters here still have confidence that our elections are fair and honest. Nevertheless, the pressure for change is growing here, too. In the Minnesota Legislature this year, 129 bills have been introduced relating to election laws.
These bills range from allowing felons to vote who are still on probation, to campaign finance reform, to requiring the state’s Electoral College members to follow the national result, not Minnesota’s.
Most of these election bills can wait until next year for hearings. However, we believe that two issues deserve attention now.
First, on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, Minnesotans will vote in a presidential primary. Previously, delegates to the national presidential nominating conventions were chosen through party caucuses and conventions. Minnesota holds a primary election every two years, so it may seem to be no big deal to hold another one especially for presidential candidates.
However, the presidential primary will be run differently from the state’s traditional primary. Voters in the presidential primary will be required for the first time to ask for a Democrat or Republican ballot. The traditional primary limited voters, in the secrecy of the voting booth, to vote for candidates of only one party. The presidential primary law requires that the ballot one requests will be public information.
For many voters, that will be problematic. Local elected officials run without party designation, but their party will be revealed if they vote in a presidential primary. The same could also be an issue for businesspeople; the social media mob could call for business boycotts if the party affiliation of business owners is revealed. Some employers would be tempted to use the information to weed out otherwise qualified job applicants.
The law needs to be amended this year so that the knowledge of voters’ party affiliation remains private.
Second, Minnesota has received $6.6 million from the federal government to improve election security. While the Minnesota House has approved spending all of those funds, the state Senate has approved only $1.5 million. Secretary of State Steve Simon, the state’s chief election official, has proposed a 20-point plan on how to spend the funds, but the Senate has been slow to act on appropriating the remainder.
While the Senate should do its due diligence with regard to all spending, including for election security, we urge the senators to take up the matter now. We know that foreign actors are out to undermine the integrity of U.S. elections, and if the public loses confidence, believing they are dishonest or inaccurate, our democratic republic will lose the primary reason for its existence.
The Senate is not obligated to rubber stamp Simon’s proposal. However, it should act sooner rather than later so that compromise can be achieved with broad bipartisan support in time for full implementation before the next election.
- An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.