Archived Story

Head election official has faith in system

Published 10:50am Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Voter ID push could require modern voting machines locally

The official who runs Mower County’s elections said he has no doubts in the current voting system, despite a push to require voters to use photo IDs.

“In Mower County, I do not have a concern in the integrity of our elections,” Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh said.

Groh didn’t speak in support or opposition to Minnesota conservatives’ push to require voters to show photo identification at the polls in the state constitution, which voters will settle in the Nov. 6 election.

However, Groh said voter fraud is nearly non-existent locally, and the many election recounts in recent years haven’t revealed any inconsistencies or raised concerns.

“There hasn’t been anything that has come to it, so I feel very comfortable with that process,” he said.

The new voter regulations, according to Groh, will accomplish two main purposes: 1. ensure the strength and integrity of the voting process, and 2. modernize the way people vote.

Still, Groh said the changes that would come with the new voting requirements wouldn’t hurt things.

“It’s always better to be proactive [rather] than reactive,” he said.

Costs

The new voting measures would bring the county’s election process into the 21st century, but they’re also going to cost voters.

To adhere to the new guidelines, the county would have to purchase new, modern voting machines for precincts.

“You’re going to have increased cost to implement the election process,” Groh said.

The new electronic voting machines could cost $56,800 for the cheaper model or $140,900 for a more expensive model — anywhere from about $4.60 to $8.80 per local voter.

Additional implementation costs — like supplies, ballots and election judge fees — could raise the cost of the modern voting machines to about $92,600 on the low end and $176,600 on the high end.

The more expensive machines would connect to Groh’s office and the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office for real-time results. However, Groh said the county would likely opt for the cheaper model, as many township halls don’t have Internet access.

“We have all these townships that don’t have connectivity,” he said.

The numbers are just estimates, as Groh said the costs and many of a voter ID law’s specific requirements haven’t been released.

Voting requirements and workloads

On top of added costs, a change in voting requirements could also change the way some people vote, which would then affect work loads for Groh and his staff.

In 2008, not all of the 2,100 absentee voters were required to go into the auditor-treasurer’s office to vote. Many were able to receive and return ballots in the mail.

Under new ID requirements, Groh speculates the process of mailing a ballot could end, sending many more people to vote in his office.

However, Groh said that will depend on how the legislation is written, should it pass.

During Groh’s time in Mower, only one person has been prosecuted and six others investigated for voter fraud — all had to do with felons voting.

Certain felons are not allowed to vote, and Groh said election judges take measures to prevent that.

“If a felon does vote, it’s a training issue,” he said.

Some people have voiced concerns about illegal immigrants voting, but Groh said he and his election judges have seen no instances of that happening in Mower County.

“They don’t see any evidence of quote-unquote illegal aliens voting,” he said of his election judges.

Another concern is people who file absentee ballots and die before the election. While such cases are rare, Groh said his office has access to the social security database and other databases that should catch the cases.

Groh said voter ID requirements shouldn’t keep many people from voting, even though a rough estimate calls for about 1,000 people who don’t have photo ID in the county.

“Everyone should have some sort of photo ID,” he said, noting it could be a public safety and security issue if someone is unable to prove his or her identity.

It’s not difficult to get a valid photo ID in order to vote, but it’s not exactly free, as some people are saying. In some cases, people may be required to provide a birth certificate, which would cost about $26.

The amendment could cause some delays in voting results. If a voter moves and doesn’t have photo ID finalized, his or her vote could be held as provisional. Groh said this could cause delays in determining the winner of a close election.

Under the current system, people who don’t have photo IDs can supply a utility bill to prove residence or can have a neighbor serve as a voucher.

“The vouching would end under this provision,” he said.

Groh said he has encouraged townships and cities to combine polling places to consolidate and save money.


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