Editorial: Remove the excuses from absentee voting

Published 10:03 am Monday, January 7, 2013

Did you know the Minnesota election law allows you to change your mind after you’ve already voted?

It’s true. If you cast an absentee ballot but decide you want a do-over, you have that right — provided your change of heart happens no later than the Friday before the election. You merely have to inform your county auditor or city clerk you want your previous ballot discarded, and then you can either cast a new absentee ballot or simply show up on Election Day and vote.

Count that among several aspects of state election law we’d like to see analyzed and revised during the 2013 session of the Minnesota Legislature.

Email newsletter signup

For starters, we believe it’s high time Minnesota join the 27 other states that have no-excuse absentee voting. Our current system essentially invites people to tell little white lies in order to obtain absentee ballots. Given the state has no interest in verifying whether someone will actually be absent from their precinct on Election Day, why bother with this useless charade?

If the Legislature chooses to allow no-excuse absentee voting, we’d see little reason to pursue true early voting, in which actual polling places are open at specific dates and times before Election Day. Minnesota doesn’t have the population density and long voting lines that would necessitate such a system — and the costs it would entail.

Furthermore, with no-excuse absentee voting, we’d argue that, once a ballot is cast, that should be it — one voter, one vote. Barring the death or last-minute withdrawal of a candidate, election officials shouldn’t have to accommodate people who have second thoughts. If you vote early, you’re committed.

We’ll also watch with great interest as the fate of Minnesota’s precinct caucuses is debated. Sadly, the vast majority of Minnesotans never have attended and/or participated a caucus, so we share the concern that too few people — most of them party activists — select the candidates who ultimately appear on the ballot in November.

Of course, the alternative argument is easy to make: If you’re not interested enough in your party’s candidates to turn out on a cold night in February, then you forfeit the right to complain about the decisions that are made that night.

Less complicated, in our view, is the debate about whether Minnesota’s primary election should be in June, rather than August. We’d prefer to see the field of candidates winnowed earlier, so that those who win primary battles don’t have to immediately plunge into all-out campaigning for a general election that’s less than three months away.

And as a bonus, earlier primaries would considerably reduce the time pressure on those who must print and distribute absentee ballots.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, Jan. 2