[Image courtesy of hhh.umn.edu]
I’m looking forward to moderating today’s forum between the four announced candidates for Minnesota Secretary of State (in alphabetical order): Bob Helland (Independence Party), Bob Odden (Libertarian), Dan Severson (Republican) and Steve Simon (DFL). The event comes at a particularly interesting point in the campaign as the candidates have begun to engage one another on a wide range of issues. Minnesota Public Radio:
With high-profile races for governor and the U.S. Senate, the Minnesota secretary of state campaign isn’t getting much attention. But it’s the only general election ballot this year without an incumbent, and the major party candidates are delivering sharply different messages.
This year’s campaign is a repeat performance for Republican Dan Severson. The former state representative from Sauk Rapids ran against DFLer Mark Ritchie in 2010 and lost by 70,469 votes. Ritchie is not running for re-election.
Severson campaigned heavily that year on requiring people to show a photo ID to vote, and he still supports it. But he’s changed his approach since Minnesota voters rejected a Republican-backed photo ID constitutional amendment in 2012. He’s now advocating for a voluntary photo ID system that would put those voters in a faster line at the polling place.
Many experts say it’s not a big problem, but Severson remains convinced that the current election system is vulnerable to voter fraud, particularly through the practice of vouching for the identity of voters on Election Day.
“If somebody votes who’s not supposed to, whether they’re from Wisconsin or they’re a felon or someone else who isn’t eligible to vote, it marginalizes the vote of those who vote legitimately,” he said …
State Rep. Steve Simon of Hopkins, the DFL secretary of state candidate … said Minnesota has a clean and honest election system, with only a “small incidence of voter irregularities.” And unlike his GOP opponent, Simon sees no need for a photo ID requirement.
“You always have to ask, is the cure worse than the disease? Sometimes, some of the people who tend to talk a lot about voter fraud — and in my judgment exaggerate the scope and the extent — they tend to be people who have solutions that don’t fit the scope of the problem and would disenfranchise many more people.”
Minnesota’s secretary of state is also responsible many business services, such as registering the names of new businesses and nonprofit organizations. Independence Party Candidate Bob Helland of St. Paul said his focus would be on improving those services, rather than election issues.
“I also think that a lot of candidates get caught up in the legislative issues surrounding elections, talking about photo ID. But really, the secretary of state’s task is to enforce those election laws rather than decide what they need to be.”
It’s the only statewide race in Minnesota this year not to feature a DFL incumbent, which could be why the typically low-interest race for secretary of state has started to heat up in recent days.
The incumbent, Democrat Mark Ritchie, is stepping down this year after two terms. The three major-party candidates running to replace him are Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins; former Rep. Dan Severson, a Republican who represented Sauk Rapids; and the Independence Party’s Bob Helland, a former state employee from St. Paul.
“We’ve always said it’s going to be close,” DFL Chair Ken Martin said. GOP Chairman Keith Downey said his party sees the race as one of their best pickup opportunities this year. The last Republican secretary of state was Mary Kiffmeyer, who served from 1999 to 2007.
Severson, who served in the Legislature from 2003 to 2011, ran against Ritchie in 2010, but lost by about 70,000 votes. After internal polling by both parties showed a tight race, the DFL ratcheted up its attacks on Severson for a series of comments he’s made about voter fraud in Minnesota. Severson has proposed measures he said would improve poll access for members of the military …
Helland said he doesn’t think Minnesota has a big problem with voter fraud. He said Minnesota elections are well-managed and that his focus would be on other duties of the secretary of state, which includes licensing and regulating businesses.
It should be a fascinating (and jam-packed) 75 minutes today at noon. If you’re in the Twin Cities, the event is in the school’s Cowles Auditorium – and if not, it is being recorded for rebroadcast later this week on Minnesota Public Radio.