Archived Story

Amendment may jeopardize mail-in balloting

Published 10:57am Thursday, September 27, 2012

U.S. Representative Collin Peterson, State Senator Leroy Stumpf and a host of Kittson and Marshall county officials gathered at the Hallock courthouse on Monday afternoon to express concerns over the future of mail-in balloting and the costs to rural counties if a constitutional amendment restricting voting passes this November.

U. S. Representative Collin Peterson said he’s concerned over the future of mail-in balloting and the costs and consequences to eligible voters in his congressional district, especially seniors who may not have access to a birth certificate to secure a photo ID.

Though an Otter Tail County auditor representative said there are no municipalities with mail-in ballots in Otter Tail County, it’s a different story in Grant County, where six townships and the town of Norcross (with a population of about 70) use the mail-in system.

“Over 90 percent of eligible voters in Kittson and Marshall counties rely on mail-in balloting every election cycle,” said Peterson. “These are Minnesotans who depend on being able to return their ballots through the mail – a system that has worked effectively for years. People ought to know the costs and consequences this amendment would pose to northwestern Minnesota before they vote. It’s a lot more complicated than people realize.”

Minnesota towns and municipalities with fewer than four-hundred registered voters currently can conduct elections via mail. Most have no infrastructure – including accessible polling locations, trained election judges and equipment – to process in-person balloting.

Voter ID opponents argue that due to specific language contained in the constitutional amendment requiring “substantially-equivalent identity and eligibility verification,” the current process of mail-in balloting would have to change because voters don’t vote in person where they could actually show photo identification. However, advocates for the amendment note that many forms of mail-in ballots (including absentee ballots in the state) already have a spot where voters can write in an ID or driver’s license number. Advocates say people who don’t vote in person would just be required to write their ID number on their ballot.

Grant County Deputy Auditor Linda Mickelson said the jury is still out on what will happen to mail-in ballots because the state Legislature hasn’t created any rules yet for how to enforce the amendment. If the amendment is approved, the rules would be passed during the 2013 legislative session.

“We’re not real sure yet how that’s going to work,” she said.

Kittson County Commissioner Joe Bouvette told reporters that “little issues to some in this state are big issues to those of us here.” He said mail-in balloting that over 90 percent of county voters rely on could not be easily or affordably replaced given “most of our townships don’t have a place to vote – a building, town hall or other accessible location to reintroduce in-person voting.” According to a new report, GreaterMNCounts.org, issued by the League of Rural Voters and the Citizens for Election Integrity, 92 percent of Kittson county precincts (36 of 39) and 90 percent of Marshall county precincts (55 of 61) rely on absentee balloting by mail.

Kittson County Commissioner Betty Younggren echoed Bouvette’s concerns citing the “tremendous costs” to Kittson and Marshall counties to pay for this infrastructure should the amendment pass. Election officials around the state and the Secretary of State’s office have calculated the amendment to cost anywhere from thirty to over fifty million dollars for state and local governments to implement, though amendment advocates dispute that cost. In Kittson County alone – with roughly 2,800 eligible voters – the GreaterMNCounts.org report has estimated costs at $250 per Kittson county voter.

State Senator Leroy Stumpf said he is also alarmed at the estimated costs to rural municipalities if the amendment were to pass.

“These are costs our rural taxpayers and local governments can’t bear,” he said. “Anything put in statute can be changed. But if it’s locked into the state constitution, we can’t fix any resulting problems.”

Former Kittson County Auditor Elden Johnson talked about how he helped usher in mail-in balloting back in 1987 as a common-sense solution for aging and declining rural populations.

“I can’t see mail-in balloting working if this amendment passes,” he said. “If you’re mailing your ballot in, you can’t show a photo ID.”

Bouvette chided the state legislators back in St. Paul who placed the amendment on the ballot.

“I think they forgot about us again up here in northwestern Minnesota,” he said. “This amendment is just costly and wrong for our state.”

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