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:

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