Minnesota’s 2013 omnibus elections bill will bring changes to audits and recounts

 

Mpls., MN 5/28/2013. Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota.

Last week Governor Dayton signed into law the 2013 omnibus elections bill (HF 894, Chapter 131).  This was the culmination of a bipartisan legislative process that resulted in the law’s passage in the Minnesota House 99-32, and in the Minnesota Senate 56-9.  As HF 894 passed through the committee process, it evolved to include changes that CEIMN has supported for years.

We are pleased that the final legislation incorporates the language from Rep. Beard’s bill changing the recount threshold from 0.5% to 0.25% for statewide races.  For state legislative races the recount threshold will remain at 0.5%.  For local and municipal races it will remain at 0.5% for races where 50.000 votes or less have been cast and then change to 0.25% in races with more than 50,000 votes cast. 

CEIMN has supported this change for several years.  Former director and founder, Mark Halvorson, testified in support of bill introduced by Rep. Beard in 2011 that would have lowered the recount threshold.  In addition, CEIMN’s report on the 2010 gubernatorial recount recommended this change and stated:  “Given the accuracy of the voting machines and the very small change in vote totals that occur during a hand recount, a trigger of 0.5% is unnecessarily high for these races.”
 
The new legislation also requires that post-election audits be discontinued for recounted races. We support this change, recognizing that there is no need to hand count a race twice.

We also supported a provision of the new legislation that changed how absentee ballots will be audited.  Absentee ballots have been counted centrally by an Absentee Ballot Board (ABB) since 2010.  In both the 2010 and 2012 post-election audits, ballots counted centrally by an ABB were considered one precinct for the purpose of a post-election audit. These precincts were eligible for the random selection of the post-election audit. Since some ABB precincts are extremely large (for example, Minneapolis had 15,143 voters in its 2012 ABB precinct), there was a possibility that one of these very large precincts could be selected for auditing. This possibility was eliminated in the new legislation.  The legislation states that the ballots to be reviewed for a precinct include both the ballots counted at the polling place for that precinct and the absentee ballots counted centrally by a ballot board for that precinct.  CEIMN supports this provision because it has the potential to reduce the workload of election administrators while ensuring that absentee ballots will continue to be audited by being combined with the precinct ballots.

At one point, the omnibus elections bill included a change that CEIMN vigorously opposed. We opposed a provision of the bill that would have eliminated the auditing of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Representative races from the post-election audit.  In our testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Elections, we emphasized that “this change would severely diminish the effectiveness of our audit law, would reduce election transparency, and has the potential to reduce public confidence in our election outcomes.”  If this provision had remained in the legislation, only the races for President and Governor would have been audited.  CEIMN worked with legislators and county elections officials to successfully reinstate language to require the auditing of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Representative races.

The new legislation establishes a pilot project to explore the use of electronic rosters in conducting elections.  The legislation also establishes an Electronic Roster Task Force whose duties include researching the following:
•    electronic roster technology, including different types of electronic rosters
•    the ability to use photographs received from the Department of Vehicle Services
•    the ability to add photographs to the roster on election day
•    data security in electronic rosters, the statewide voter registration system, and the Department of Vehicle Services
•    reliability of Department of Vehicle Services data, including the ability to match names and photographs without duplication
•    ability of precincts across the state to connect an electronic roster to a secure network to access the statewide voter registration system
•    direct and indirect costs associated with using electronic rosters

CEIMN is committed to monitoring the review and adoption of electronic rosters in Minnesota.

The final omnibus elections bill contains numerous changes to Minnesota election law, many of them updates to obsolete language in the law.  However, there are other substantial changes, including the adoption of no-excuse absentee voting.  Beginning with the 2014 Minnesota state primary, any eligible voter will be able to vote by absentee ballot.    

For additional information, see the text of the legislation at:
https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=131&doctype=Chapter&year=2013&type=0