Eight months after electing Al Franken to the U.S. Senate, Minnesotans will finally have a second seated senator representing us in Washington, D.C. Tremendous attention has been focused on Minnesota's election system during the long and daunting recount process.
By and large Minnesota has done well under that scrutiny due to the hard work, integrity and professionalism of local election officials, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the State Canvassing Board and the Minnesota Supreme Court. Minnesotans should be grateful for the dedicated work these public servants have done.
Still, the last 240 days have taught us much about our state's election system, revealing in painful detail its strengths, weaknesses and needed areas of improvement. Now Minnesotans want to know if someone is going to fix that system and put in place the reforms necessary to prevent this from happening again. With the highest voter turnout rates in the nation, Minnesotans want to know their votes do matter - and that every vote is counted.
Voters ought to know the work has been done already to implement that needed change. Working with the secretary of state, and acting on the recommendations of local election officials in the field, the Legislature passed needed election reform measures this year based on the strengths and weaknesses of our election system revealed during the 2008 US Senate election. Election officials requested repeatedly that the Legislature act with bipartisan cooperation to implement these needed reforms before the next election cycle.
Specifically, measures passed this year sought to: 1) standardize absentee ballot counting across the state; and 2) move party primaries from September to August so local election officials would have time to count military absentee ballots from overseas. These were among the common-sense reforms that would have modernized our voting system, and once again advance Minnesota's election system as the strongest, most reliable in the nation.
Unfortunately these reforms were choked off by the partisan atmosphere at the State Capitol. Not one Republican in the House or Senate voted for the bill, despite strong support and advocacy from their local cities, counties, townships and even the U.S. Department of Defense. Then, as we saw all too often this year, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the bill.
In blocking needed election reforms, Gov. Pawlenty and Republicans opted instead to maintain the current system; a system that left our votes in limbo and unnecessarily prolonged the recount process. It remains unclear how any elected official could turn the right to vote into a partisan issue. Minnesotans expect lawmakers on every front to make voting easy and reliable so that we, their elected officials, can be held accountable by the full measure of public opinion.
As Minnesotans celebrate the 4th of July (and finally being done with Election 2008), I hope they will demand that all politicians put partisan interests aside and put the fundamental voting rights of Minnesotans first.
Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is a member of the Minnesota House and serves on a committee that considers elections policy. He is a Bemidji native.