I was astounded to learn recently that two state senators have complained about Secretary of State Mark Ritchie publicly stating that troops deployed overseas would have a more difficult time successfully casting their ballot under the proposed constitutional amendment on elections.
I believe Secretary Ritchie is correct and that he would be derelict in his duties as our state’s chief elections officer if he didn’t advise voters of potential consequences of proposed changes in our Constitution. One part of this proposed amendment, identity verification, would be done by the presentation of “valid government-issued photographic identification.”
I worked in the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State from 2004 until 2008 overseeing compliance with federal election laws that promoted voting by our servicemen and women. Serving under both former Secretary Kiffmeyer and current Secretary Ritchie, I coordinated with the Department of Defense to address obstacles to Minnesota’s military voters. I have also served in the military for about 38 years, finishing up now in the Regular Army and closing in on 20 active duty years. I was deployed for the first Gulf War in 1990.
Among the many suggestions made by the Pentagon to improve the success rate of our military voters was to eliminate the requirement for a third-party vouching to obtain a ballot. Minnesota and forty-nine other states had eliminated this requirement and it was clearly a big help. Under the proposed new constitutional amendment we would “turn the clock back” to those days where military voters would need to find someone to vouch for their identity by signing on their ballot as a witness or notary.
Contrary to the assertions that military members will not have any problems meeting the new voting regulations because they have a photographic identification for getting onto a military base, this ID card does not have any address on it, let alone a Minnesota address showing which precinct one is eligible to vote in. This is one reason why every other state in the nation who has imposed photo ID voting restrictions has always exempted military voters – it is not possible to find a witness or voucher that can be certified in all parts of the world, especially in a war zone.
When Secretary Ritchie took office in 2007 he developed a close cooperative working relationship with the Department of Defense, adopting their proposals along with his own; he reached out to veteran’s organizations to inform them of his goals and to seek their support to push the legislature to adopt the important suggestions being made by the Pentagon and others. Working closely with veteran’s organizations, Minnesota National Guard leaders, and other active duty and reserve servicemen and women, he drafted proposed laws and then worked tirelessly to get them passed.
Secretary Ritchie was so successful in getting his reforms adopted into law that Minnesota was named an All-Star state by the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project in 2012 as part of their 2012 Heroes Vote Initiative. This is a conservative oriented organization I understand but they validated the success of Secretary Ritchie’s military voting reforms. In fact, in the course of writing this short piece, I took a break, went to the MN SOS website to the military voting program that Secretary Ritchie brought into use in 2008, and submitted a military absentee ballot application within minutes and with which I requested and received my ballot electronically, virtually immediately.
One final point to be made is that in my time in the OSS, I was also the person charged with receiving allegations of illegal voting from the public or government officials. If there was any substance to the allegation, I would forward it to the proper authority. In two national elections, there was not a single substantiated complaint of anyone intentionally committing voter fraud. Two statewide recounts where each ballot was looked at confirms the lack of voter fraud in the state.
I no longer work in the Office of Secretary of State, nor do I write as a partisan of any party. But it is critical to set the historical record straight. Knowing the facts as I do, it appears to me that these false allegations being made of Secretary Ritchie regarding military voting are simply partisan political attacks. — Todd Pierce, Arlington Va. (Editor’s note: Pierce is originally from Princeton, Mn.)