By national standards, Minnesota has a very good election system. And for all our griping about the U.S. Senate recount, this recount will serve to make our elections even better.
First, over the years well-meaning but misinformed election judges apparently have been rejecting legal absentee ballots, inadvertantly disenfranchising thousands of Minnesotans in the process. We learned this when the recount uncovered over 1,600 absentee ballots that were rejected for no valid legal reason. The recount is serving as an seminar for election judges on this issue. Also, I would imagine absentee ballots will be redesigned by policymakers to make them easier to fill out correctly.
Second, we’re identifying technological weak links, such as the outdated Eagle scanning equipment in St. Louis County, which, the recount revealed, had been error prone. The embarrassing publicity around that should lead to those machines being replaced.
Third, we’re clarifying standards for ruling on ambiguous ballots. The work the State Canvassing Board and the State Supreme Court will be doing in the coming days clarifying standards will be instructive to election judges statewide, and make future counts more accurate. It also will give us an improved roadmap for the next statewide recount.
Finally, we’re identifying dumb laws. For instance, based on an outstanding AP analysis released yesterday it looks like a significant number of ballots will be rejected because voters made an identifying mark on them, such as an initial or signature. That law apparently has roots from the days when party bosses were selling votes, and were using signed ballots as a proof-of-purchase.
These voters are being disenfranchised, and I’d be surprised if a single one is involved in a vote scanning scheme. If they are, the identifying mark would seem to make it easier to catch the scoundrels. I imagine many made their mark out of some sense of ballot security, to ensure their ballot was not lost or destroyed. Others may have been simply doodling. Others perhaps assumed that they should sign this official document, just as they sign almost every other official document they encounter.
But I suppose there is an outside chance that someone is running a vote-selling scheme. So if there are an unusual number of signed ballots in a particular jurisdiction, election judges should still have the ability to call for an investigation to see if there is a vote auction happening. But voters should have a presumption of innocence.
Before the next election, one of the best election systems in the nation will have significantly better technology, standards and laws. Call it an election system enema, something that only happens when we stumble through a historically close recount where every vote REALLY matters. It’s been an unpleasant procedure, but here’s hoping it is, ultimately, a cleansing one.