Other’s opinion: Minnesota is ready for a safe, secure election

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Star Tribune

In California, Republican Party officials set up ballot boxes posing as official government drop-offs and are refusing so far to comply with a state cease-and-desist order.

In Texas, a judge blocked an order from the Republican governor that barred counties from having more than one ballot drop box. Gov. Greg Abbott is suing Harris County for offering its voters curbside and drive-up service to accommodate those with health concerns. The 2,000-square-mile county is one of the largest in the U.S., and more than half of its 2.4 million voters are Hispanic or Black.

Email newsletter signup

In Georgia, voters are waiting 10 hours and more to cast ballots in early voting, so constrained are the number of polling places. The lines, which stretch for blocks, are a shocking sight to Americans more accustomed to seeing such tactics used in non-Western countries.

Thankfully, Minnesotans won’t have to worry about such scenarios. For the most part, they are finding early or mail-in voting to be relatively easy. That’s not just luck. It is the result of deliberate choices, carefully made, to ensure a process that unfolds as it should. It means maintaining voting machines in working order and creating an abundance of locations in each county where voters can go to cast ballots.

It means having enough personal protective equipment on hand so that all involved, from election judges to voters, can have confidence that precautions have been taken to ensure their safety. It means clearly written, specific laws that protect the integrity of the election process. It is the culmination of decades of effort to better enable Minnesotans to exercise their voting rights rather than attempting to restrict them.

What is happening in other states, however, should be a great concern. These are not harmless election “shenanigans.” It’s not just political hardball. This is overt suppression of the vote, aimed at certain populations, and deliberate corruption of the election process — this time not from foreign actors, but from within our own country.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has watched the situation in other states with alarm, but also calls it “one of those ‘Thank God we live in Minnesota’ moments.” The state has laws, he told an editorial writer, that would have prevented any of those scenarios. “We take voting rights seriously,” he said, “and it shows.” Counties across the state have been diligently preparing for what is expected to be record turnout, with multiple early voting sites. Official ballot drop boxes have been used for years, Simon said, without incident. To those who would try anything, Simon reminds that ballot tampering in a federal election is a federal felony and would be prosecuted. Still, he said, what he is witnessing elsewhere is unsettling.

“It makes your heart skip a beat,” he said. “Texas seems unrelenting, just zealously committed to making voting harder.”

Minnesota still has challenges ahead. Much of election machinery rests on guidance, and a presumed commitment by those involved to carrying out the spirit of the law. “We issue guidance to counties,” Simon said, “but a lot of what happens should be credited to their own strong commitment to make our processes work for everyone.”

Even that is being tested this time. Recently the Washington Post broke a story about a private security firm in Tennessee that, incredibly, wanted to hire ex-Special Ops military to do guard polls in Minnesota. Simon said such poll guarding is illegal in Minnesota — even law enforcement cannot be called out proactively, but only in response to an incident. Attorney General Keith Ellison notified the company that federal and state law prohibit such action, and that “the presence of armed outside contractors at polling places would constitute intimidation and violate the law.”

Self-appointed poll watchers are also illegal in Minnesota, Simon said, where each major party gets one monitor at a designated polling place, who must be approved in advance and in writing. Voters cannot be personally challenged, confronted or intimidated in any way while voting, he said, and any such incident should immediately be brought to the attention of election officials at the polling site. For those concerned about armed vigilantes, Simon said no one is allowed to bring a weapon within 100 feet of a polling place. He said that state and local law enforcement agencies have all been brought into the loop on laws designed to keep order.

“The U.S. Supreme Court once described polling places as an ‘oasis of calm,’?” Simon said. “A place where voters have a right to be left alone to exercise their right in peace, and the law ought to reflect that goal. That’s what we intend to have in Minnesota.”

For more information about voting in Minnesota, go to www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/.