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Making strides to improve elections

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As a former secretary of state of eight years, it's especially rewarding as a current state representative to have helped lead three separate election bills to passage in the first half of this legislative session.

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The first bill improves our system for absentee voting, the second helps ensure votes from military personnel are counted, and the third promotes accurate voter registration lists and polling place counting of ballots.

Recent investigations into Minnesota's voter registration system revealed a number of concerns after the 2008 elec-tion, including more ballots than eligible people voting in an election, felon voters, non-citizen voters, underage registrants, non-existent and vacant voter registration addresses, deceased voters on voter registration rolls, tens of thousands of returned postal verification postcards and deficient voter registration records. The three new laws will make improvements in all these regards. Several reports to the Legislature are also required so we can monitor the results of these new laws.

The absentee ballot bill I co-authored most notably implements a bar-code system for tracking the exterior of absentee ballot envelopes, protecting against them being lost, wrongly approved or wrongly denied.

Using the bar code system will allow the chain of custody to be documented -- no more lost ballots! The whole process -- from application to approval or denial -- will be precisely tracked. But I want to emphasize the bar code will appear on the ballot's envelope -- not on the ballot itself -- in order to protect voter privacy.

In this same bill, a county ballot board will process the absentee ballots. If a ballot is rejected with insufficient time to send a replacement, within weeks after the election, a notice will be mailed to the voter with an explanation of why the ballot was rejected. Voters can avoid repeating errors the next time if they know what happened.

As a reminder, you may complete an absentee ballot at the county office prior to Election Day where county officials can assist you to be sure all is done correctly. The ballot is processed at the county so its transportation is secure; the same is true for school district and township official offices.

The second new law helps military personnel by moving Minnesota's traditional September primary to the second Tuesday in August to allow more time for ballots to be submitted. This complies with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires at least a 45-day period for absentee ballots to be returned and counted for primaries and elections. The previous law was 30 days. When you fight for our right to vote, we will fight for your right to cast your ballot and have it counted!

The third bill we were suc--cessful in adopting is one I co-authored to ensure accurate election rolls and accurate counting at the polls. The new law will require the secretary of state to match voter regis-tration information with the Social Security death index, Department of Public Safety identification records and the Department of Corrections felony convictions.

The official voting record must be signed by election judges in the polling place on Election Day after the polls close and all ballots are counted and reconciled: The number of ballots received from the county at the polling place must equal the number of ballots going back to the county. All election officials must sign as they hand off the ballots to one another. The official record requires the number of ballots to equal the number of voters and any discrepancies to be reconciled that night.

Our election judges work hard to get things right and this will help them document completely so the work they do will stand in any recount as accurate.

An amendment to require a photo ID was rejected with only Democrats voting against the proposal. This requirement is supported by nearly 85 percent of Minnesotans surveyed so it is amazing to me anyone objects to such a common-sense measure, especially when those at the poverty level are given a non-driving ID free of charge and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such legislation as constitutional.

Other states have such a requirement and there are no problems with its implementation or use. In fact, it speeds up the process and gives all involved a greater sense of security. Who we vote for is secret. Who you are and where you live is a public right to know. The Minnesota election system owes all of us that level of assurance. I hope to see photo ID pass in the next legislative session!

I would like to see us go even further to promote ballot integrity, but this is a good start. Most important is these new measures should help us catch any abnormalities up-stream instead of at the end of the process during a re-count like we saw in the U.S. Senate election two years ago.

Many of these measures I already used while I was sec-retary of state, but they are now put into law so they are required of the current and future secretaries of state.

Mary Kiffmeyer. R-Big Lake, is a member of the Minnesota House and two-term Republican Minnesota secretary of state.

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