News

Minnesotans Spoke, But Were They Heard?

An update on the Help

America Vote Act

October 28, 2003

In September 2003, Minnesota

submitted its plan to implement the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)

for federal review. The intent of Congress was for the State to incorporate

public input gathered this summer from a preliminary draft of Minnesota's

HAVA plan.

"It is encouraging to

see how many Minnesotans actually took time out of their busy days

to comment on a plan that most certainly needed more public input," said

FairVote Minnesota Vice Chair Jim Cousins. "It is also encouraging

to see that almost 80 percent of all the public input spoke to election

improvements advocated by FairVote Minnesota."

Unfortunately, the revised

plan does not incorporate most of this input. Of the 348 comments

received, 184 dealt with allowing for Instant Runoff Voting tabulation

capabilities (106) and the study of alternative voting systems (78)

including Instant Runoff Voting. Yet Secretary Kiffmeyer chose not

to incorporate this citizen input into the HAVA plan. As a result,

over 52 percent of the public comments to the plan were ignored.

Secretary Kiffmeyer's

office states that comments supporting voting alternatives were taken

into account, but is quick to say that Instant Runoff Voting is not

authorized by state law and that the Secretary is limited to administering

existing law. "That response overlooks the fact that the entire purpose

of the federal Help America Vote Act was to stimulate recommendations

to reform elections and make improvements to the status quo," said

FairVote's Jim Cousins.

Other parts of the State

Plan submitted by Secretary Kiffmeyer do propose changes to state

law, including changes to election equipment certification standards

which her office said it was not authorized to seek with regard to

Instant Runoff Voting. This does raise the question of why the Secretary

gave lesser consideration to alternative voting methods, especially

considering this was the subject that dominated public comments.

"The public's request

was legitimate and realistic," said Cousins, "especially considering

most of the comments related to zero cost opportunities to ensure

Instant Runoff Voting capabilities or the study of possible improvement

to Minnesota's system; both of which are clearly allowed for in the

funding of HAVA."

Of the remaining comments

to the plan, the bulk (92) dealt with voter security and auditing

issues by suggesting a record of each ballot when using electronic

equipment, one of the principal points of FairVote Minnesota's advocacy.

Another block of comments (13) advocated on behalf of the accessibility

community and concerns to the draft plan.

"Secretary Kiffmeyer should

be applauded for her responsiveness on the topic of electronic voting

machine auditing, but taken to task for failing to act consistently

when asked by her constituents to do the same for alternative voting

methods," said Cousins. "The final HAVA plan submitted by Secretary

Kiffmeyer for Minnesota is not substantially different than the draft

Minnesotans commented on in July. It misses some major opportunities

for improving democracy in this state. Perhaps it is more aptly named

the 'Hope' America Votes Act."

Minnesota's plan now goes

before the federal government for review. The Election Assistance

Commission charged with overseeing this review and approval process

is currently being assembled. FairVote Minnesota will continue to

monitor that process and report on opportunities to influence it.

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