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Published April 29 2009

Forum editorial: Minnesota can make vote better

Election reforms proposed by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie would improve a system that already is one of the best in the nation. The reforms would not be wholesale changes, but rather pragmatic refinements. They should be embraced by the Legislature.

The specific reforms are not directly related to the extended recount for the state’s U.S. Senate race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. But the recount has put the spotlight on the elections system, and therefore is an opportunity to fix problems with the way absentee ballots were rejected. Ritchie’s changes would avoid a repeat of glitches in the Senate recount by streamlining the process with self-certification of preregistered voters and a quick review of all rejected ballots.

The secretary’s two other proposals are designed to make a good voting process even more voter-friendly.

Early voting, which has been such a huge success in North Dakota, would further enhance Minnesota’s system. Early voters would have the same rights as voters who vote on Election Day with the added benefit of allowing election officials to address problems on the spot. Early ballots would be counted like any other ballots, thus reducing potential for error and eliminating chances the voter’s ballot would be rejected later.

Early voting has been embraced by voters in several states, and Minnesotans would be well-served by having the opportunity to cast votes up to 15 days before the general election.

Ritchie also wants to bring voter registration into the 21st century by registering Minnesotans automatically when they apply for a driver’s license, unless they opt out. The secretary still would have to cull out those who are not eligible, using government data bases. But the streamlined procedure would be more convenient for voters, reduce long lines at polling places and reduce the number of voters registering on Election Day by more than 70 percent, Ritchie said. And by reducing the volume of registrations entered by hand, the new system would save money for local governments.

Legislation to make the changes is advancing in the Legislature. Certainly the bills will be tweaked and otherwise amended, but their primary focus should not be blurred.

The proposed changes represent significant improvements to a good voting system. They comport nicely with Minnesota’s tradition of fair, squeaky-clean and open elections.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.