By Don Davis
Long lines at U.S. polling places could be shortened if state and local governments take actions such as allowing early voting and online voter registration, a presidential commission said Wednesday.
Good ideas, Deputy Minnesota Secretary of State Beth Fraser said, adding that Minnesota already is making progress in key areas.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie implemented online voter registration last year, although Republican legislators, and some Democrats, say he should have received their approval before it launched. And Minnesota takes a baby step toward early voting with “no excuse” absentee balloting starting this year.
Fraser said Minnesotans can expect their legislators to discuss allowing voters to cast ballots at city or county elections offices before Election Day itself.
“We are fully supportive of true early voting,” Fraser said, when voters “have an Election Day experience where they can walk into their county or city office … so they can leave with the assurance that their vote has been counted.”
Minnesota lawmakers already have begun the discussion of early voting, perhaps 10 days or two weeks before Election Day.
Disabled, elderly and other voters who cannot get to the polls, and those who just want to take more time to look over their ballots, still could vote absentee if early voting is allowed, Fraser said.
Many parts of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration report, ordered by President Barack Obama after the long lines of 2012, are things Minnesota already has started, Fraser said.
For instance, the report urges more use of technology to speed the process, such as electronic poll books the Legislature authorized to be tested. Fraser said that test could expand to more locations.
The commission also recommends that state election officials work with state agencies and other states to “clean up” voter lists, doing things like removing names of dead people and changing addresses of those who moved. It also suggests developing a list of eligible, but unregistered, voters who officials could urge to register to vote.
The presidential commission was led by Bob Bower, a top Obama campaign aide, and Ben Ginsburg, 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s top attorney. Ginsburg was then-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s lead recount attorney in his tight 2008 Minnesota race with Al Franken.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said his party could go along with some of the changes as long as they upheld election integrity.
“We want to protect the (voting) process,” he said.
Ritchie did not go about beginning online registering properly, Daudt said, insisting that is a legislative decision. But online registering itself has widespread support. The GOP leader also had no problems with an early-voting system done right.
The presidential commission provided elections officials a long list of suggestions, including:
— Setting a goal that no American waits in a voting line more than 30 minutes.
— Using schools as polling places because they have space and parking available, and security already is in place.
— Making better use of technology, such as computerized polling books.
— Doing more advance preparation, down to mapping out where every electrical outlet is located in polling places.
— Having election officials walk down the lines of voters to try to work out issues early.
— Giving more attention to election administration, including more money.
— Shortening ballots during presidential election years.
— Encouraging businesses and schools to provide election workers, who often are in short supply.
— Giving voters information about how long lines are at polling places, such as through Internet feeds.