GOP election bill would create poll watchers; require ballots to be broadcast live
Many more eyes — and video cameras — could watch the ballot boxes and mail-in ballot signs that accept or reject mail-in ballots under legislation running through the GOP-controlled Minnesota Senate.
An important electoral bill (SF 3469) would require counties to allow poll watchers — appointed by political parties and candidates — to monitor ballot boxes, who examine mail-in ballot envelopes to determine whether ballots should be accepted or rejected.
These polling station observers would monitor the opening of ballot envelopes, the acceptance or rejection of ballot envelopes, the depositing of absentee ballots into ballot boxes, and the counting of ballots. Observers would be allowed within four feet of ballots or envelopes, and would be allowed to question or challenge chief election officials.
Polling station work would be streamed live on Election Day and the week before, when mail-in ballots are processed, and viewable on the Minnesota Information Technology Services website. The bill would also require live streaming of mail-in ballot boxes.
The bill, authored by Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, has since been incorporated into a larger bill (SF3975).
Kiffmeyer – a former two-term secretary of state – said the goal of her bill was more transparency in the handling of mail-in ballots.
Democrats and city and county groups said some of the provisions were unworkable, intrusive and could deter the increasingly popular option of mail-in voting.
An election bill for the Democratic-controlled Minnesota House, meanwhile, would make it easier to vote by mail, double the processing time for mail-in ballots and strengthen security to protect election workers.
The starkly different views show the continued polarization over the 2020 election results, with many Republicans continuing to believe false claims about voter fraud and pushing elected officials to make changes that would have been unthinkable as recently as 2019.
The Kiffmeyer bill would also ban the publication of election results in the precinct until all results for that precinct have been counted, including mail-in ballots processed before 8 p.m. on Election Day. Kiffmeyer said it would give the public a more complete picture than “prematurely disclosing” the results which she said caused confusion and concern in 2020.
Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a letter to lawmakers that Kiffmeyer’s bill could create additional burdens for election administrators and pose a risk to voter privacy.
“I understand that the motivation for many of the bill’s provisions is increased transparency, but stringent security measures are already built into our system, and we should work to bring the public further into the voting process using these procedures. existing,” he wrote.
He told the Reformer too many of the bill’s provisions are unworkable, appear to be inspired by misinformation, and “would set Minnesota back.”
Matt Hilgart, policy analyst for the Association of Minnesota Counties, said requiring poll watchers and live streaming would create logistical and privacy issues.
“Simply put, our local governments lack the resources, infrastructure, staff and expertise to provide live broadcasts of ballot boxes and ballot boxes across the state,” he said. during a March hearing on Kiffmeyer’s bill.
Alex Hassel, a lobbyist for the League of Cities, said municipalities are concerned about the staffing and training needed to comply with the legislation. Live streaming would be a huge administrative hurdle and could deter people from signing up to be election judges because they are already so closely watched, she said. Hassel said cities also have security and privacy concerns about poll watchers.
The bill includes $11 million in state funding for these new terms. But Hassel said the bill would likely still incur significant costs for local election administrators.
The bill would also:
- Require mail-in ballots to be printed on paper with security markings.
- Only allow absentee voters to cast their own ballots at the ballot box – no one else’s.
- Require ballot boxes to be within 100 feet of the City Clerk’s offices and require ballots to be collected, recorded and reported daily.
- Ban deputy county auditors or deputy city clerks from sitting at polling places unless they have been appointed election judges by the parties. The League of Cities opposes this provision because it would require government employees to disclose their party preference.
- Prevent the addition of additional drop boxes near Election Day; boxes should be open for the entire 46-day mail-in voting period. (Simon and Hassel said this limits flexibility and convenience for voters.)
- Prohibit the Secretary of State from making rules to implement the drop box provisions.
- Require that any mail sent by a committee or private organization that includes a mail-in ballot request or sample ballot include disclaimers stating that it is not an official government document . They could not be pre-populated with voter information.
Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, questioned the need for the changes during a hearing in March.
Kiffmeyer replied, “If you read the newspaper, you’ll pretty much see there are questions about it.”
She said when she was an electoral judge, “everything was open”. But now the work of mail-in polls is done behind closed doors, she said.
“And when the doors have been closed for people, they ask about this process,” Kiffmeyer said. “This is an election that must be open and able to be observed.”
Meanwhile, in the House, an election bill introduced by Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, (HF 4293) was rolled into a larger bill (HF4293) and would do:
- Extend the time allowed for election administrators to process absentee ballots from seven to 14 days before an election.
- Spend $5 million in grants for local election security.
- Prohibit intimidation or interference with election officials.
- Extend postal voting to communities with up to 400 registered voters.
- Require that mail-in ballot requests or sample ballots sent by private groups include disclaimers stating that they are not official government mailings.
- Require that disclaimers on communications written by independent groups include their top three contributors.
- Require at least one drop box for every 50,000 registered voters in the jurisdiction, with logs for each drop box reporting daily collections.
The League of Cities backs the House bill, including the security-tightening portion, saying its members have heard concerns from election judges about their safety and what they should do if someone tries to interfere with their work.
A recent survey found one in five local election officials plan to leave their jobs before 2024, and more than half fear for the safety of their colleagues at work, according to Business Intern.