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2005 Legislative Session Wrap-Up: Legislature fails to require ranked-ballot capability for new voting equipment

A provision for new voting equipment to have the flexibility to process ranked and cumulative ballots passed the Senate, but was rejected by House members of the conference committee at the close of the regular session in May. The net effect is that a home rule jurisdiction wishing to adopt Instant Runoff Voting or another advanced voting method will have to create its own vote-counting solution, possibly costing more than if the provision had passed into state law.

HF 874, a bill relating to voting equipment and appropriating funds from the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), was passed by both the House and Senate, but in different forms. The Senate version included a provision that the state contract with voting equipment vendors would require that any modifications necessary to make the equipment compatible with a ranked or cumulative voting method would be made at the time the voting method was authorized for use in that jurisdiction. A conference committee was appointed to work out the differences between the two versions. Two House members, Rep. Laura Brod (R-New Prague) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano) refused to accept the Senate’s provision, effectively killing it.

During testimony taken by the conference committee, Rep. Brod asked FairVote
Minnesota/>/> policy advocates
Tony Solgård/> and Bruce Kennedy questions about which vendors offered this capability and how much would it cost. The FairVote Minnesota team provided the information that was known, but said these were ultimately questions that should be put to the equipment vendors for an authoritative answer. The Senate members of the conference committee, led by Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-Minneapolis), proposed including those questions in the state’s Request for Proposals. However, the two key House members declined to include even their own questions in the final version of the bill. The bill was passed into law as 2005 Session Law Chapter 162.

What’s next for cities interested in adopting advanced voting methods?

The legislature’s failure to pass this provision is a set-back for the movement for better voting methods. However, it is not an insurmountable obstacle. Home rule jurisdictions that would adopt a ranked or cumulative voting method have several options for counting the votes:

  • Conduct the election with hand-counted paper ballots
  • Use the same voting equipment and make the same adaptations as jurisdictions that have adapted a customized solution for counting ranked ballots (
    San Francisco/>, California/>/> and
    Cambridge/>, Massachusetts/>/>)
  • Create a customized solution for new voting equipment

If the last option is chosen, it would be advisable for local governments to inquire further with the equipment vendors, essentially asking the questions FairVote
Minnesota/>/> said should be asked. If one vendor is more prepared and inclined than others to offer ranked-ballot handling, it may be advisable to go with that vendor over others, even if a decision to adopt a ranked-ballot voting method is not immediately pending.

One provision of the new state law calls on each county to establish a working group made up of all city, town, and school district election officials in each county to propose a local equipment plan for how to spend its appropriation. The local equipment plan must be adopted by the county board of commissioners after a public hearing. This may be an opportunity for county residents to provide input into their own county’s purchasing decisions. Inquire with your city clerk or county auditor for information about this process. Contact FairVote
Minnesota/>/> if you need assistance in advocating for informed purchasing decisions by your county.

Advances made for election security

At least two provisions of HF 874, the new voting equipment law passed during the regular session, will contribute to election security and the prevention or apprehension of errors or tampering.

  1. Voter-verified paper trail – Voting equipment must allow voters to record their votes on a permanent paper ballot or paper record and to change votes or correct errors before the ballot is cast. The paper ballot or paper record must be available for any recount.
  2. Escrow of source code – Vendors of voting equipment sold through the statewide buying contract must provide the source code for the voting system to an independent evaluator chosen by the vendor, the secretary of state, and the chairs of the state’s major political parties. The evaluator must examine the source code and certify that the voting system will record and count votes as represented by the vendor. The major political parties may also conduct this evaluation independently of the joint evaluation.

Another bill (HF 1481—Session Law Chapter 156) extends indefinitely the random audit planned for the 2006 elections. It also clarifies that the audit law applies only to federal, constitutional, and legislative elections. The proposal for the random audit was championed by Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson).

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