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Comment on the Secretary of State's HAVA Plan

April 15, 2003

The Honorable Mary Kiffmeyer
Minnesota Secretary of State
State Office Building Room 180
100 Doctor Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Saint Paul MN 55155-1206

Dear Secretary Kiffeyer,

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) presents a historic opportunity toreform and improve elections around the country and in Minnesota. I amwriting to request that election stakeholder organizations and the publichave the opportunity to contribute to the development of the State Planduring the formative stage.

The Act establishes minimum requirements for public notice and comment.However, it is clear that the Congress intended for the plan to "bedeveloped in an open manner"1 andthat input beyond the minimum requirements is desired. This is especiallyappropriate for Minnesota since, compared to some states that have laggedbehind in election systems, fewer funds will be needed to meet the requirementsof Title III of the Act, allowing the funds to be used to carry out otheractivities to improve elections as authorized by the Act.

FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit organization educating the public aboutvoting systems and their effect on the quality of democracy, should beregarded by your office as a stakeholder in the work of reforming andimproving elections in this state. Our organization has expertise toprovide and I formally request an opportunity to present ideas to theState Plan committee for consideration in developing the HAVA proposal.

In the most basic terms, we would hope that the State Plan would containthe following, organized according to Section 254(a) of the Act:

(1) How the State will use the requirements payments

  • Any voting equipment acquired with HAVA funds or state matching funds must have the flexibility to process ranked and cumulative ballots as well as "vote for one," "vote for up to x" ballots commonly used today. With this flexibility will come the capacity to capture the image of each ballot as it was voted on Election Day. This adds auditing capabilities and protection of the integrity of elections not available in Minnesota electronic voting equipment as currently configured.

This will not be a significant cost to the state, but rather will save many times as much in future outlays if equipment acquired now without this capacity were to be retrofitted with this capacity at a later time. This is simply a prudent use of public funds.

  • Jurisdictions with voting equipment not in need of replacement should be able to use HAVA funds to upgrade their equipment in order to acquire the flexibility to process ranked and cumulative ballots and the accompanying auditing capabilities. This may be simply a matter of installing firmware already developed by Minnesota's election equipment vendors.
  • Research, evaluative studies, and demonstrations of alternative voting methods should be included in the proposed uses of the HAVA funds. For an example of the kind of study that could be done in Minnesota, see a 2001 project at the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs entitled, "Illinois Assembly on Political Representation and Alternative Electoral Systems," available online here.

(2) How the State will distribute and monitor the distribution ofthe requirements payment

  • Nongovernmental educational organizations should be among the "other entities in the State" included in the Act for eligibility. FairVote Minnesota has been in discussion with several other educational organizations about developing proposals as outlined in (1) above. We ask that the State Plan eligibility criteria be written so as to be inclusive of nongovernmental educational organizations.
  • Reports published in print and on the web should be required of all entities to which the payment is distributed. This will enable the State to monitor their performance and make the results of the work available to the general public.

(6)(B)the portion of the requirements payment which will be used tocarry out activities to meet [Title III] requirements; and (C) theportion of the requirements payment which will be used to carry outother activities.

  • As discussed above, the portion in (C) may be much greater for Minnesota than for states which have lagged behind in election systems. To preserve the greatest possible flexibility for Minnesota's use of the funds, we recommend apportioning to part (B) only as much as is necessary to meet the requirements of Title III and maximizing the portion for part (C).

(13) A description of the committee which participated in the developmentof the State Plan in accordance with section 255 and the proceduresfollowed by the committee under such section and section 256.

  • There is required time for public review of the Committee's process. However, with detailed proposal suggestions, we hope to instead present thoughtful input during the development stage of the proposal. We believe it is during the development stage that the Committee should receive input from groups experienced in advocating better accessibility and participation for minority and disabled communities, and all communities in need of increased voter participation. We hope the State plan will be able to report that it included this procedure.

As much of the Plan Committee's proposal may be drafted in thenext six weeks, please respond to this request at your earliest convenience.I may be contacted directly at (952) 938-5066 ext. 100 or tony@solgard.com.However, I would encourage you to be directly in communication withFairVote Minnesota Vice Chair Jim Cousins, who is heading up our workon HAVA. He may be reached at 612-209-1897 or jCousins@TripSplit.com.

Sincerely,

FAIRVOTE MINNESOTA

Tony Solgard, President

 

1 "TheNey-Dodd-Hoyer Help America Vote Act of 2002 (H.R. 3295) Summaryof House-Senate Agreement," published October 9, 2002, by the U.S.Congress, available on line here.

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