Secretary of State Ritchie looks to electronic poll books as bipartisan solution

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie looks to electronic poll books as offering election integrity solutions the whole state can rally around.

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is currently meeting with groups and otherwise hawking the use of electronic poll books and state drivers' license records as a means of securing voter ID photos. Sitting on Ritchie's desk is an electronic poll book. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Although saying the debate over the proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment and providing electronic poll books to the 3,500 polling places in the state are separate issues, some people believe technology has already passed the proposed amendment by, Ritchie explained.

“There are people who are concerned about locking into the state constitution technology that’s already in the dust bin of history,” he said.

His push for the use of electronic poll books, Ritchie explained, was whetted by a visit with company officials at Datacard Group, a technology company headquartered in Minnetonka, who suggested election integrity solutions were already at hand.

Currently, with software tweaks costing about $200,000, it’s possible in time for the November election to produce paper poll books that include voter photos, Ritchie explained.

This can be done, he said, by electronically transferring driver’s license photos and photos from other data bases into the statewide voter registration system.

Legislation is being crafted to facilitate this.

There’s about 84,000 Minnesotans without photo IDs who vote — many of these seniors, Ritchie said.

“They’ve been voting since (President) Roosevelt, some of them,” he said.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, (in red) takes questions during a House hearing on March 8 on her proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment. Kiffmeyer views Ritchie's push for electronic poll books as a partial answer to election integrity. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Though some of these seniors no longer drive, the department of motor vehicles has drivers’ license photos going back 12 years, explained Ritchie.

Lost wallet?

“Not a problem. You’re in the system,” he said.

Under proposed legislation, election judges must request that voters without a photo ID allow a color photo of themselves be taken, barring religious objections.

These photos would then be fed into the electronic voting system.

In other cases, when a voter presents a driver’s license, state ID, or other ID, election judges would record the card to ensure the photo appears in the election database.

Ritchie views the 2013 elections as offering a chance to feather in the use of electronic poll books.

“The cost could be relatively modest,” he said.

Because standardization in elections is critical, Ritchie suggests the state provide start-up funding for the electronic poll book initiative.

Election judges in the city of Minnetonka, explained City Clerk David Maeda, find electronic poll books valuable.

Maeda, a former Hennepin County election official, suggested to Datacard the company explore electronic poll book technology.

In preparing its electronic poll book for the marketplace, Datacard invited Minnetonka election judges to visit the company. The judges were impressed.

“They came back saying, ‘We want you to buy these,’” Maeda said.

Minnetonka has been using poll book software design to assist same-day voter registration. Maeda views the technology as labor saving — some have suggested it can pay for itself within three years, he explained.

Hennepin County at one time employed 30 temporary workers to enter voter data into the election system after elections, Maeda explained. The process could last into February.

With electronic poll books, the task might take a week, Maeda said.

Ritchie and other Democrats on Thursday, March 8 appeared with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to show support for poll book proposal.

“We think this is a win/win for both sides,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, whose proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment was before the House Government Operations and Elections Committee on March 8, said Ritchie had discussed his proposal with her.

“He seems to think that’s kind of a substitute (for the Photo ID amendment),” she said. “I don’t at all.”

It’s insufficient, Kiffmeyer argued, to simply have voter photos appear on electronic poll books. The voters must themselves provide a photo ID, Kiffmeyer explained.

Electronic poll books are not a substitute for the Photo ID amendment, she said. The two work together, she said.

Additionally, Kiffmeyer, a former election judge, dislikes the idea of busy election judges being required to take photos of voters. “That’s just not what I think a polling place is about,” she said.

Ritchie, speaking earlier this week, said he understood that some members of the public deeply believe the state’s election system is flawed. “I’ve had plenty of death threats,” he said.

“I’m aware there’s a kind of way of thinking,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie believes the state’s election system is sound. “But when there’s a perception problem, you need to address it,” he said.

The election system can always be improved, Ritchie said.

To view a short video of Ritchie explaining his poll book proposal, visit: http://youtu.be/sMc9SqI8nBQ

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