The fallout from a one-time 2008 facial recognition scan conducted under a grant from the Department of Homeland security is being used to slam Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. However, a closer look at the politics of voter integrity in 2009 reveals how the revelation underscores how Republican leaders tossed spike strips in the path of reforms sought by Ritchie.
This week we learned that a woman working with a fraudulent identity was hired and promoted by Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, and when her successor tried to implement changes to catch this kind of criminal, she voted against them and argued the state could not afford the technology the Secretary of State needed to do his job.
Parry's show hearings
Mike Parry isn't afraid to glean earned media from his own grandstanding against Secretary of State Ritchie, despite Friday morning's snoozer of a hearing.
In Republican legislators take Ritchie to task over photo ID, Star Tribune staff writer Jim Ragsdale writes:
Parry, who faces a tough congressional primary against former state Rep. Allen Quist on Aug. 14, denied that he harbored any political motives in calling the hearing. He said he has heard complaints about Ritchie's activities and wanted to investigate them. He said Ritchie's public descriptions of the amendment, if shown to be untrue, could amount to violations of campaign laws.
That's why he drove such an totally nonpartisan set of wheels to the Minnesota state capitol. Will the state senate pay for mileage or Parry's congressional campaign committee or both?
And the evidence? Trial by newspaper:
The main anti-Ritchie testimony came from Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, sponsor of the photo ID bill, and Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, one of the chief lobbyists supporting the measure. Newman -- saying he was appearing as a private citizen, apparently because he, too, is a named plaintiff -- cited newspaper clippings from Mankato and Marshall, Minn., in which Ritchie discussed the amendment and its effects.
Minnesota Majority has already produced an ad calling Ritchie's integrity into question. The ad includes this text: "
Well, guess what? Minnesotans recently learned that one of Secretary Ritchie's own employees appears to have voted illegally in at least two elections using a false identity. If Mark Ritchie can't smell voter fraud when it's right under his nose, how can we possibly trust him on Voter ID?
A fascinating question, and what Minnesotans don't learn from that ad is that the indicted individual first voted in 2004, when Mary Kiffmeyer was Secretary of State; the employee was hired in 2005 and promoted in 2006, under Kiffmeyer's administration, as Fox9 News reported in Ritchie commends use of facial recognition tech in finding fraud.
Kiffmeyer was the first executive director of Minnesota Majority. Using the group's own logic, if she couldn't smell fraud when it was right under her nose, how are we to trust her or Minnesota Majority on Voter ID?
More seriously, in early 2006 the Pawlenty administration first raised the possibility of using a Department of Homeland Security federal grant to suss out potentially bogus drivers licenses, then conducted the scan of the drivers license photo database using facial recognition software in 2008. Around 24,000 possibly fraudulent licenses were flagged. Pawlenty was governor for two more years--and he, not Secretary of State Ritchie, had oversight of the DMV database.
Why didn't the governor take action or build a system for routine scans? Some friends have suggested that the findings would have proven damaging to his presidential ambitions, since no Democrat had served as governor of Minnesota for decades. With the amendment on the ballot, there's a chance to misdirect the indictment of a Kiffmeyer hire--and Pawlenty inaction--to Ritchie.
What's more, Minnesota leads the country in convicting felons who mistakeningly vote.This is the "voter fraud" that Minnesota Majority shrieks about. It's strangely silent about how its Republican allies--including Mary Kiffmeyer--have blocked Mark Ritchie's attempts at legislative relief for this problem. And there's little suggestion that asking for photo IDs at the polling place will address this problem.
Ritchie sought relief
Let's review. Ritchie has asked for legislative relief in the past. From a 2009 press release:
ST PAUL, Minn.-March 20, 2009-Secretary of State Mark Ritchie today announced that his legislative proposals would strengthen Minnesota's election system by making use of state and federal databases. Technological advances would allow the state to largely prevent those who are not eligible from registering or voting before elections take place.
"Individuals who are not eligible to vote should not be registered or able to cast ballots. The legislation passed by the House State and Local Government Committee yesterday would authorize our office to use a variety of federal and state databases to ensure that our elections laws are enforced," Ritchie explained.
The legislation Ritchie proposes would allow the Office of the Secretary of State to compare new voter registration applicants against the Minnesota Department of Corrections' list of felons, so that ineligible individuals can be identified and flagged. It would also give legal authority to this office to compare the statewide voter registration list against the Social Security death registry to identify Minnesota voters who died while outside of the state. Finally, the legislation gives authority to the Office of the Secretary of State to check the citizenship status of voters using data maintained by the Department of Public Safety.
"This is not a new issue, but we are taking a new approach to it. For example, historical data indicates that 70 felons may have voted in the 2004 presidential elections and 61 may have voted in 2008. I do not know what action was taken in 2004, but under my administration, we have moved swiftly to notify county attorneys of all individuals who may have voted illegally and they are now investigating each incident. These types of cross-checks would make it easier to prevent those who are not eligible from casting a ballot in the first place" added Ritchie.
Another example of the importance of this new legislation is the ability to identify and remove from the voter rolls individuals who are not in Minnesota at the time of their death. By doing electronic data matching with the national death registry maintained by the Social Security Administration we ensure that Minnesota's voter registration lists are up-to-date at all times.
The proposed measures are part of the office's comprehensive legislative package to modernize voter registration, which is currently moving through the legislature as House File 1053 and Senate File 660.
Mary Kiffmeyer, one of the founders of Minnesota Majority, was serving her first term in the Minnesota House when HF 1053 came up for a vote. What did she have to say about implementing the technology that would actually deal with felons voting? (Again, not a problem solved by asking for a driver's license). Here's what she said about an oral amendment offered by Laura Brod:
From the description:
Mary Kiffmeyer, former Secretary of State and executive director of Minnesota Majority, said in 2009 that it would be too expensive to ask the Department of Corrections to produce electronic data on convicted felons to the Secretary of State.
Section 9 dealt with automatic motor voter registration, substituting an opt out system for the current opt-in provision, but Kiffmeyer's objection had to do with the supposed cost of constructing data systems to prevent felons and non-citizens from voting. Sections 6,7, and 8 of the bill would have required monthly review of data by the appropriate departments to make sure that people registering were eligible.
This is a surprising argument from a supporter of "voting integrity," because we're told repeatedly that no cost is too great to the counties and townships to prevent voter impersonation by requiring a government-issued PhotoID to vote.
What happened to the bill?It passed both chambers, though Mary Kiffmeyer voted against it, then Governor Pawlnety vetoed it.
The Associated Press reported in MN drivers won't get automatic voter registration:
Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Friday vetoed a bill that would have automatically signed up Minnesota driver's license applicants to vote.
The move means those applying for or renewing driver's licenses and state-issued IDs will still have to check a box to register to vote, instead of being automatically enrolled as voters if they were eligible.
"Registering to vote should be a voluntary, intentional act," the Republican governor's veto message said.
The change was pushed by Democrats including Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who said it would have streamlined bureaucracy for voters and saved time and money for local governments that process voter registrations. Ritchie claimed it would cut the number of Election Day registrations by as much as 75 percent.
A spokesman for Ritchie said neither Ritchie nor his staff were available to comment.
Rep. Steve Simon, the bill's House sponsor, said it also would have improved the integrity of Minnesota's voter records by giving Ritchie's office access to Social Security death records and requiring more extensive reporting from the state Department of Corrections on felons who aren't allowed to vote.
He said the changes would have minimized improprieties by ideologically motivated organizations that register voters.
"I wish some of this other stuff hadn't been vetoed," said Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park. . . .
Given what we now know about the state of the drivers' license database--and surely Pawlenty knew about the results of the 2008 scan when he vetoed the bill--why did Republicans think software upgrades necessary for voter integrity were too costly? What was the delay in adopting routine and regular facial recognition software scans?
Parts of this post are an excerpt from a longer entry posted yesterday: Bachmann dodges press questions at Allen Quist Rochester fundraiser; Mike Parry campaign reminds world Michele did so love him too
Photo: Mike Parry's wheels parked outside Friday's senate hearing. (Tweetpic by Lithappens). AP reporter Brian Bakst snapped and tweeted another angle here.
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