The recount as a result of the 2008 US Senate election was an eye-opener to a lot of Minnesotans … yet for others it was something that they had been prepared. Chief Justice Eric Magnuson had never heard of the Elections Contest Court until Secretary of State Mark Ritchie asked him for “volunteers” … and that was long before Election Day. No doubt, the Chief Justice had no idea what was in store for him when he volunteered.
Primary Election Day is August 10th .. and election officials are not wasting any time getting judges trained. A video training session as been issued by the Secretary of State’s office. But that’s not the end. For example, in Blue Earth County, judges are going through six training sessions. Patty O’Connor who overseas the county’s elections described the process : “teaching them how to use the guide … the election judge book is an excellent tool for them to use in the precinct … and then answering questions and helping them through situations that may arise.” The goal is to train 250 people to be election judges for this year’s primary.
This is not something new … this is ordinary … this is preparation. This is the unseen side of elections.
Getting people interested in participating in the process can actually begin at an early age. In 1996, Blue Earth County election officials began a program with Mankato East High School students to volunteer as trainee judges. During a typical three-hour session, students learn how to set-up the precinct and check in and register voters. That’s a great education in civic involvement. This is the unseen side of elections.
As a result of legislation enacted last year there are changes. Moving the primary election date was one change but there are others. For example, the timing of acceptance of absentee ballots must be in by the close of business on Friday, August 6th … after that voters can only vote at the polls.
All the good work that these election officials do go unnoticed … except for those that are clamoring about voter fraud including voting by felons. Dan McGrath wrote a great commentary on the subject :
[MN-GOP endorsed candidate Dan] Severson’s real intention is trying to make political hay out of a nonissue by going after his opponent, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. By trying to blame Ritchie for “allowing” felons to vote, Severson shows that he does not understand how the election system works.
All registered voters have records in the Statewide Voter Registration System. When a person is convicted of a felony, that information is sent to the secretary of state so that voter’s record can be flagged. Such a voter would be challenged by election judges. The voter’s record is not removed from the list. If a person flagged as a felon shows up to vote and is challenged by the election judges, but takes an oath swearing eligibility, Minnesota election law says that person must be allowed to vote. Election officials could not turn such voters away even if they wanted to.
Do felons vote ? We know that some try. Many may not even realize that they are not allowed.
For example, Shawn Scott DeAtley was charged in Blue Earth County Court with one felony charge of voting while ineligible to vote. Mr. DeAtley was accused of burglary in 2005 and received probation. However the length of his probation was not up before the November 2008 election and his voting rights had not been restored. Every polling place has signs warning convicted felons of what can happen if they vote while ineligible. In the past five years, this was the first case in Blue Earth County … rare … but it can happen. Discussing the DeAtley case, Ms. O’Connor had complained that a vetoed bill would have made their jobs easier as there would have been better access to Department of Corrections information.
(Funny thing, you can be a convicted felon and be a candidate for elective office, but you could not vote for yourself.)
The next time you vote, take a second and thank the poll workers for their participation — it’s not just a couple of hours handing out ballots … they are part of the unseen side of elections.