Friday, November 19, 2010

Reconciliation is UnMinnesotan

Ken Martin is trying to shame us into thinking that wanting an accurate vote count in our gubernatorial election is un-Minnesotan. He said as much in an article today regarding the petition filed by the Emmer campaign and the Republican Party of Minnesota requesting the Minnesota Supreme Court to order a reconciliation of ballots to legal voters signed in at each precinct. "What is this really about? This is about damaging the ability of our next governor, Mark Dayton, to govern in this state," said Martin, according to the Politics in MN report. He continues: "And it's wrong, it's un-Minnesotan and I don't think the voters of this state will stand for it." (see full article: )

The current chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota suffers fools far more gracefully than some others would. Ken falls squarely into this category. How can reconciling the ballots in the election do anything but HELP the next governor's ability to lead? If the election results are scrutinized to this degree, they are bound to be more accurate. If they are more accurate, they are far more credible and lend even more gravitas to the governor - whoever that turns out to be. I'll give Martin credit for some understanding of Minnesota psyche: most citizens of this state would rather be dead than be considered 'un-Minnesotan'. He's softly trying to bully the supreme court justices into going with the flow, not making waves - don't do anything so un-Minnesotan as to question the judgement of the secretary of state or county workers. I would argue that it's very un-Minnesotan to want to disenfranchise our neighbors who cast their votes legally, and it's definitely un-Minnesotan to want to leave a pall of illegitimacy hanging over the next governor by not thoroughly, properly and accurately counting the ballots in our election. Let the justices determine whether administrative rule is equal in authority to state law passed by a duly elected legislature.

The article goes on with Hamline University political science professor David Schultz suggesting that the petition will get dismissed because it's "too soon" since the election results haven't yet been certified. However, in 2008, when the Coleman recount legal team tried to raise the issue late in the recount process once they realized there were more than 30,000 extra ballots, the argument was that trying to address it at that point was too late precisely because the election results had already been certified. Generally, the earlier these concerns are raised and addressed, the better chance we have of sorting them out and getting real answers.

Lastly, the argument is raised that if extra ballots must be randomly pulled out, both Emmer and Dayton would lose votes at roughly the same rate, and could even affect down ballot races. However, the writer fails to mention that the ballots are to be pulled within their precincts. If Hennepin and Ramsey counties are the areas with the highest proportion of potential problems, then the votes will hardly be lost at the same rate. Dayton would lose a disproportionate share of the vote, by a large percentage. And here is the crux of Martin's concern. He knows that if there are, say, 12,000 extra ballots in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, given the margin of difference between the two candidates in those counties - losing those extra ballots alone could easily wipe out the lead now enjoyed by Mark Dayton. And there would be no collateral damage to the legislative victories of the house and senate Republicans.

And if the Republicans are wrong and there is no phantom vote problem? Then we will have gone a long way to proving how good our election system is, and we can all be good Minnesotans knowing that our next governor is the man truly chosen by 44% of the people.

Let the chips fall where they may, indeed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reconciling Ritchie

The Emmer for Governor campaign and the Republican Party of Minnesota today filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court asking the court “to ensure that reconciliation has occurred in each of Minnesota’s 4,136 precincts as required by Minnesota law (Minn. Stat. § 204C.20)”. Raucus howling immediately ensued from the peanut gallery, decrying Mr. Emmer and the Republican Party for trying to drag out the process, waste taxpayers’ money on the recount and generally rain on the DFL parade. The loudest and ugliest detractors are perfectly well aware that the recount is required by state statute because the margin between the two candidates is less than one half of one percent. But they never seem to let facts get in the way of a good tantrum, so they yell at each other in their echo chamber and soothe themselves with their smug self-satisfaction. Meh.

All the howling is a lame attempt to try to distract the public from two very obvious facts that the Emmer campaign and the state GOP have uncovered: Minnesota’s election system is not as squeaky clean and smooth as some people would have us think; and, some Democrats will happily look the other way rather than reform the system because the current looseness in the rules and lackadaisical habits of our election practices usually tend to favor their outcomes.

Same-day registration fiascos, no photo ID and our mockery of a vouching system have already been covered. The majority of Minnesotans want reform on these issues. What is more fundamentally disturbing is the complete lack of respect some DFLers seem to show for the laws already on the books, and the high tolerance they seem to have for mediocrity in our system performance. The poster child for mediocrity and disregard for the law appears to be none other than Secretary of State Mark Ritchie himself. Although reconciliation of ballots to voters in each precinct is required by statute, Ritchie apparently ignored the requirement and dismantled the reconciliation program designed to make sure that every legal vote is counted, and counted only once. Why? In his own words: "He said the goal was to match voter registration and the certified canvassing board totals within 1,000 names. ‘You'll never get a perfect correlation between the two,' he said. 'We were at 40,000 in April. We're at about 30,000 now.'" (Patricia Lopez, “Ritchie is sued over voter-registration records,” Star Tribune, May 28, 2009).

Problem Number One: Disregard for the law. Why are we having to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to force the Secretary of State to follow the law? Ballot reconciliation is required by statute. The system was in place to comply. Just do the job you’re supposed to do. Following state statute is not a suggestion; it’s a required part of the job description. How long would Ritchie survive in the private sector if he just chose to ignore required portions of his employers’ job description? About 2 seconds.

Problem Number Two: Why is it acceptable to Ritchie and his ilk to settle for mediocrity in our election system? I’ve heard two lines of flawed logic in this recount that boggle my mind:

1. Minnesota has one of the best election systems in the country, better than most other states.

2. In Ritchie’s own words, “You’ll never get a perfect correlation between the two.” (ballots counted to voters signed in)

It goes without saying that using “we’re better than the other guys” is about the dumbest piece of adolescent logic there is. That’s like having your kid come home with a ‘D’ on a test and hearing him or her say, ‘well the other kids got ‘F’ on theirs’. How we compare to other states is not the standard. The standard toward which we should strive in our election system is 100% accuracy and compliance with the law. This attitude is especially maddening when we know that there were systems and procedures in place to accomplish the reconciliation task, and they simply weren’t being followed.

Second, the acceptance of mediocrity as a matter of philosophy is utterly unacceptable. To say that “you’ll never get a perfect correlation between the two” is like a retail manager accepting that the cashiers’ tills will never balance. A 40,000 ballot to voter gap spread among 4,136 precincts averages less than 10 ballots per precinct. Figure it out for crying out loud. Make sure your systems and procedures are adequate, then train and support your election judges using the standard of 100% accuracy and compliance. The task is straightforward: the number of ballots must match the number of signed in, legally registered voters. The remedy for discrepencies is to discard any extra ballots. It’s not rocket science.

Minnesota is a state in fundamental political transition. We have seen a few cycles in a row now with extremely close elections in various races. Minnesota’s voters deserve to have confidence in the accuracy and integrity of our election process. Compliance with the law, a commitment to excellence and willingness to recognize – and reform – flaws in the system will earn and keep the trust and confidence so vital to our robust democracy for every citizen.

How does reconciliation work? Check out Mitch Berg's explanation at:

Monday, March 22, 2010

A little self-flagellation

Here's a riddle for you: What do you get when you cross 12 years of majority status with a party that has its collective head in the sand?

Answer: Obamacare.

As much as we conservatives and Republicans want to wail and gnash our teeth over the heavy-handed, manipulative tactics of the Democrats in getting this behemoth of a bill passed, we really have only ourselves to blame. Healthcare reform is not a new issue. In 1992, when President Clinton took office, consumers were complaining about runaway costs, capricious insurance denials, no real choices, and haphazard delivery. Hillary Clinton became the first First Lady to take an active policy role in trying to shape an overhaul of the healthcare system to address these issues and create a system that insured everyone. We heard exactly the same arguments for and against her ideas as we've heard over Obamacare. Republicans - and the general public - recoiled. Of course we need healthcare reform, we said, but it should be targeted to the real needs in the system - we didn't need some sweeping overhaul that would destroy the best medical system in the entire world. We needed lawsuit reform, portability, more consumer choice and direct access so people could see how much their healthcare actually costs. Eventually Hillary Clinton's plans were tossed out as too far-reaching, too socialistic. Americans didn't want socialized medicine, plain and simple. They elected Republicans to a majority in 1994 to rein in the left and bring balance back to federal government.

Republicans held Congressional majorities for 12 years. For 8 of those years, we held control of the executive and the legislative branch. There was nothing we couldn't have done. We had a golden, perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to enact the kind of reforms that would have transformed the medical industry in America and provided a shining example for the rest of the world for how to provide effective, cost-efficient healthcare that rewarded innovation and success and left no patient behind.

Instead, we did...nothing.

No tort reform. No delivery streamlining. No portability. No reforms of insurance pools or patient coverage. Oh, we managed to create a bill to cover prescription medications for some folks, but we even screwed that up. All we really did was expand bureaucracy and increase costs. For the most part, Republicans put healthcare reform on the back burner, telling ourselves that the public cared more about the war on terror than the state of our medical system.

The funny thing is, people did continue to care. The healthcare system is something that affects all of us every day - taking care of children or aging parents; dealing with insurance companies, providers, pharmacies, government agencies; paying the co-pays, the deductibles, the out-of-network, out-of-pockets. The maze is confusing at best, rife with traps that cost you dearly or dead ends that don't heal your ills. The costs are ridiculous - insurance premium increases of 15% or more annually are not unusual even when inflation stays near zero.

So, the Democrats come along, led by this charismatic "Yes We Can!" leader who promised to bring Utopia into being with his presidency. With commanding majorities in both houses, he had a golden, perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to enact the kind of reforms that will transform the medical industry in America. The difference? President Obama did it. We may not like his vision or his methods, but he did it. The Democrats now own the healthcare issue. And beyond our goldfish bowls of cynicism and beltway politics, here is a sampling of real statements from average people about the bill:
"I'm glad that now self-employed people can buy into insurance pools like employees do."
"Now my husband doesn't have to stay with his job to keep our health insurance. We can take our policy with us."
"My neighbor can't be denied coverage for her heart condition."
"I know there are things in the bill I won't like, but we can fix those. At least this is a start."

Hear that? That's the sound of American common sense and compassion talking. Those are Republican ideas. But we will never be able to claim them now, because we failed to provide clear leadership when we had the chance. The American people wanted action. They wanted some direction. We didn't provide any, so they took the only direction that was laid out, knowing it would have to be fixed later.

We have a chance to fix it in November. Will we be fit to lead?