Tuesday's Fergus Falls Daily Journal and Brainerd Dispatch both published articles about former state legislator's Dan Severson's campaign for Secretary of State, but both did little to examine the claims he was making.
Take the notion of express voting.
Daily Journal staff writer Adam Harringa reports in SOS candidate wants to take on voter fraud: Severson stops in FF:
Severson, the Republican candidate for Minnesota Secretary of State, said on a stop in Fergus Falls last week a system called Express Lane Voting, along with simplifying the process for starting a small business are his top priorities.
Severson said his Express Lane system would verify the identity of voters, keep felons or non-U.S. citizens from voting and speed up the process. He said the current system, which allows unregistered citizens to vote if someone vouches for them, for example, doesn’t work
This is fascinating stuff, since Severson has said elsewhere that the Express Lane Voting would be voluntary. Thus it seems intended for the convenience of the individual voters, rather than as a fraud prevention measure.
Moreover, it's interesting to see Severson campaign in Greater Minnesota on keeping "non-U.S. citizens from voting" when so much of his recent work in the Twin Cities has been among immigrant communities.
There's more detail in Mike O'Rourke's article in the Brainerd Dispatch, Severson wants to streamline voting process:
Long voting lines, particularly in the Twin Cities area, pose an obstacle for time-pressed voters, he said. Severson would like to create express lane voting where those who obtain a state-approved identification card could go to a special line and vote with the swipe of a card, bypassing the normal registration process. The system he envisioned would be optional and cities and counties would have the right to ask the state for funding to help pay for the express lane. The former lawmaker said he sees the proposal as a way to cut down on clerical paperwork. Information needed to validate the voter's ID would be on the card.
He said no one would be disenfranchised by the express lane since it would be optional and voters could still use the old system of voting. He would also like to see poll officials have the ability to query databases in order to make sure people who use same day registration are eligible to vote. He said there would be cost to update technology to verify new registrants but it was worth it.
"What people want in Minnesota is a secure system," Severson said. "I don't put a price tag on that."
Like Severson's petition for counting military ballots first, this talking point has a certain glib appeal. The candidate presents his idea (lacking details, we can't agree that it's a plan) with an air of certainty that no one has ever considered such a thing ever before.
Teflon Dan will save us!
How unfortunate, then, that others in our state have been researching our voting process, making recommendations, and getting them enacted into law on a bipartisan basis. Severson, on the other hand, keeps repeating his idea as if it were the name of a ring in a Tolkien novel, without ever going beyond the introductory paragraph of a Cliff Notes guide.
Since the candidate hasn't supplied any plan worth the name since his endorsement by the Republican Party last spring, Bluestem feels confident sharing one such expert's assessment of Severson's idea. In What is “Voluntary Voter ID”?, Gustavus Adolphus math and computer science professor and a member of the state task force on electronic pollbooks writes (we reproduce the enitre post here)
My professional work lately has focused on “electronic pollbooks” – computer systems used for administrative functions at polling places, such as checking in preregistered voters and processing same-day voter registration applications. In particular, I served this past year on the Minnesota legislature’s bipartisan task force on this topic, to which I was appointed based on technical expertise. Thus, I sat up and paid attention when Dan Severson, in explaining why the MN GOP should endorse him for Secretary of State, cited electronic pollbooks as the key for his “voluntary voter ID” proposal. So, what exactly was he proposing? His web site doesn’t go very far toward answering that, but putting it together with some context helps.
In fact, his web site itself doesn’t seem to currently have any more than the phrase itself. But I found more at http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=8065d0de9c27f3dca7f3fc823&id=7f4e2199ca as follows:
1. Voluntary Voter ID will result in expedited voting. If you are willing to scan your government issued driver’s license, general identification card, military ID etc., you will be able to access express lane voting booths.
The bill our task force drafted, which passed the legislature nearly unanimously and was signed into law, provides that local election administrators can use electronic pollbooks to expedite voter checkin and registration. Those are typically the bottlenecks. Occasionally the ballot scanner is. On the rare occasion that the booths themselves are a problem, it can be easily and cheaply resolved for all voters – all it takes to open up six more booths is an ordinary folding banquet table, a few pieces of cardboard for privacy screens, and a half dozen pens. I don’t see how it makes sense for the already overburdened election judges to manage traffic through two different lanes when all voters can readily be accommodated with booths. (Keep in mind also that some of the voters who would have the most physical difficulty waiting in line are less likely to have a driver’s license.)
As far as the specifics of what cards are scannable, the enacted law requires electronic pollbooks be able to scan Minnesota drivers licenses and identification cards. Military IDs turn out to be challenging because they do not have the same information. For example, they are lacking residence address. In recent years, they also no longer have social security numbers, so there’s no number in common with the registration database. However, to the extent election officials and their vendors are able to accommodate scanning other ID cards (whether military, college, or any other), the law permits them to do so.
The recently enacted law does not mandate that every precinct in the state would have this technology, because in most of the state’s thousands of precincts, there aren’t enough voters to make the expense worthwhile. Is Severson proposing that all precincts be equipped? He doesn’t say. If not, his proposal sounds a lot like what was already passed into law. Conversely, if he wants to mandate the equipment, that’s a major expense.
2. The scan will automatically verify with the SOS office citizenship, residency, proper polling place and the valid ability to vote. If an individual has a voting restriction for some reason, it will alert the election judge on site and prevent voter fraud. Or if the voter simply went to the wrong precinct, then that voter will be assisted to the correct location.
The already enacted law provides that the electronic pollbook will “immediately alert the election judge if the voter has provided information that indicates that the voter is not eligible to vote; … if the electronic roster indicates that a voter has already voted in that precinct, the voter’s registration status is challenged, or it appears the voter resides in a different precinct.”
So what more does Severson want? Again, he doesn’t make this entirely clear. It sounds like he thinks there will be direct, real-time communication between the electronic pollbook and the SOS office, and that this will allow some extra checking of such matters as citizenship. Our task force determined that real time communication was not possible in all parts of the state and would have detrimental consequences for system reliability and security. More fundamentally, the SOS office has no additional ability to verify citizenship. Much as you might want there to be some database to check and see who is and who isn’t a citizen, it just doesn’t exist.
3. In using Voluntary Voter ID, the SOS will better be able to maintain the Safe at Home Program, a special service offered to victims of abuse and others who may have a need to conceal their addresses to avoid physical or emotional harm. Because no verbal interchange will be required, all information is kept confidential between the election judge and the constituent.
Again, I don’t see what’s new here. As far as the Safe at Home program itself goes, existing procedures protect those individuals by allowing them to vote as ongoing absentee voters and by double checking that their address is not in the polling place roster. As far as the broader desire of other voters for privacy, even in a precinct without electronic pollbooks, there’s nothing to prevent a voter from showing their name to the election judge in written form rather than saying it aloud, and the scanning of cards is (as mentioned above) already part of the recently enacted law.
So, having considered Severson’s points one by one, the only really new thing seems to be the “express lane” proposal, which I don’t consider particularly viable. But maybe there’s more – something that Severson didn’t say, but may have encoded into the name of his proposal. I say that because “voluntary voter ID” already had an established meaning across the border in Wisconsin, where it was rejected. There, the proposal was that a voter could indicate on their registration record that they wished to be required to present ID in order to vote. At the polling place, the ID would then not be voluntary: it would be mandatory for those who had opted in. Is Severson suggesting this for Minnesota? It’s hard to tell. Hopefully the press will ask him. In Wisconsin, it was rejected because of the potential for confusion. In any case, it has nothing to do with the electronic pollbook technology that Severson has emphasized, and that was already enacted into law on a bipartisan basis. IDs can be demanded without a computer, and a computer can be used without demanding IDs.
Severson has added a post about his first 100 days, but nothing which contradicts Hailperin's observations. Readers can learn more about electronic poll books at the National Conference of State Legislatures' page about the topic. The NCSL's page includes a link to the final report from Minnesota's task force.
Photo: CBS Minnesota's stock photo for the report Minn. Task Force Seeks New Voting Rosters Study.
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