Editorial: There’s room to improve a solid voting system

Published 10:17 am Friday, December 26, 2008

The recount of votes in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race has shed light on election procedures that could be improved in Minnesota.

The number of votes that could be challenged or are unclear, were tallied incorrectly or incorrectly disqualified has surprised even casual observers. There is nothing particularly unusual in the latest tally except for a large turnout and lots of new first-time voters. The number of mistaken vote tallies is more a function of the intense scrutiny that comes with a recount than any systematic problem with the state’s voting system.

Still, election experts are seeing opportunities for improvement.

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One argument goes that the massive turnout created problems because voting laws require voting all be mostly done on one day, that it be in places that are not terribly accessible sometimes, and that the management be done by people who are mostly volunteers working long hours.

Minnesota could alleviate some of this perfect storm for voting errors by allowing early voting for anyone who signs up. Some 32 states already allow early voting and in North Carolina, for example, nearly half the votes were cast before election day with very few problems. Early voting allows people to avoid long lines, and vote when and where it is most convenient. In Minnesota, it would also help avoid havoc created by bad weather on election day that could reduce turnout.

It’s hard to find a drawback to early voting. Minnesota’s current system of “absentee” voting is in essence early voting, but more complicated. To vote absentee, one has to have a reason they will not be able to vote on election day. In fact, election observers think many absentee voters are really early voters who’ve made up an excuse that is not entirely legitimate.

Early voting also would reduce crowds on election day, perhaps cut down on the hours election judges have to work and reduce pressure that causes human error in vote counting.

Early voting also would allow election officials to correct problems with registrations right away, instead of getting hit with hundreds of new voters and registration issues on election day.

Others have suggested setting up polling stations in malls and other high traffic areas in order to reduce crowds at typical public polling places.

Minnesota’s system of voting and voter registration remains solid, but the Senate recount shows areas can be improved with very little expense. The government and the Legislature should consider such reasonable measures.

— The Free Press of Mankato, Dec. 19