By Wendy Underhill
Minnesota’s election system is a rightful source of pride.
Turnout is consistently the highest in the nation, and the North Star State recently received high marks from the Elections Performance Index, a tool designed by the Pew Charitable Trusts to encourage election improvements at the state level.
Perhaps that success is due to the work of a legislature that has recently wrestled with just about every key issue in the elections arena. In 2012, voters turned down a legislatively referred Constitutional amendment that would have permitted strict voter ID.
In 2013, no-excuse absentee voting became law. This year, the legislature gave the go-ahead to online voter registration, electronic poll books and participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center. (ERIC is a consortium of states that share voter registration data as a way to clean up voter rolls and reach out to potential new registrants.)
I offer these thoughts after spending a day last week with Senators Katie Sieben and Mary Kiffmeyer, Representatives Steve Simon and Carolyn Laine, legislative staffers who regularly deal with elections, and state and local election officials. (Read an interview with Sen. Sieben from a recent issue of The Canvass, NCSL's elections newsletter.)
The group gathered to learn how elections are currently run in Minnetonka, Minn., and then to consider what the future for elections technology might be.
For the second part, Doug Chapin, of the University of Minnesota, asked participants, “What makes a good voting system?” It took no time to determine that a good system is:
- Convenient for voters
- Easy for poll workers
- Accurate, in that each vote is counted as the voter intended
- Hard to hack
- “Auditable, re-countable and verifiable” (this, from the state election director, Gary Poser)
- Adaptable over time
- Readily maintained
- Accessible for people with disabilities, with a focus on the growing population with cognitive disabilities
- Flexible (especially important in a state that permits Election Day registration and ranked choice voting at the municipal level).
That’s a good list—one that could be part of the mix of ideas as other states contemplate election issues. And, a correlated question: If it’s not possible to have it all—and when is that ever possible?—what’s the priority ranking of these values?
Wendy Underhill covers election policy for NCSL.