I was astounded to learn recently that two state senators have complained about Secretary of State Mark Ritchie publicly stating that troops deployed overseas would have a more difficult time successfully casting their ballot under the proposed Voter ID constitutional amendment. I believe Ritchie is correct and that he would be derelict in his duties as our state’s chief elections officer if he didn’t advise voters of potential consequences of the proposed changes in our Constitution. One part of this proposed amendment, identity verification, would be done by the presentation of “valid government-issued photographic identification.”
I worked in the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State from 2004 until 2008 overseeing federal election law compliance in regard to voting by our servicemen and women. Serving under both former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and Ritchie, I coordinated with the Department of Defense to address obstacles Minnesota’s military voters faced. I have also served in the military for about 38 years, finishing up now in the U.S. Army and closing in on 20 active duty years. I was deployed for the first Gulf War in 1990.
Among the many Pentagon suggestions to improve the success rate of our military voters was eliminating the requirement for third party vouching to obtain a ballot. Minnesota and 49 other states eliminated this requirement and it was clearly a big help. Under the proposed new constitutional amendment, we would “turn the clock back” to those days when military voters needed to find someone to vouch for their identity by signing on their ballot as a witness or notary.
Contrary to claims that military members will not have problems meeting the new voting regulations because they have a photographic identification to get on a military base, that ID card does not have any address on it, let alone a Minnesota address showing which precinct one is eligible to vote. This is one reason why every other state in the nation that has imposed photo ID voting restrictions have always exempted military voters — it is not possible to find a witness or voucher that can be certified in all parts of the world, especially in a war zone.
When Ritchie took office in 2007, he developed a cooperative working relationship with the Department of Defense, adopting both their proposals and his own. He reached out to veterans’ organizations to inform them of his goals and to seek their support to push the legislature to adopt the important suggestions being made by the Pentagon and others. Working closely with veterans’ organizations, Minnesota National Guard leaders, and other active duty and reserve servicemen and women, he drafted proposed laws and then worked tirelessly to get them passed.
Ritchie was so successful in getting his reforms adopted, that Minnesota was named an All-Star state by the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project in 2012 as part of their 2012 Heroes Vote Initiative. I understand that this is a conservative-oriented organization, but they validated the success of Ritchie’s military voting reforms. In fact, in the course of writing this short piece, I took a break, went to the MN SOS website to the military voting program that Ritchie brought into use in 2008, and submitted a military absentee ballot application. Within minutes of my request, I received my ballot electronically.
One final point is that in my time in the OSS, I was also the charged with receiving allegations of illegal voting from the public or government officials. If there were any substance to the allegations, I would forward it to the proper authorities. In two national elections, there was not a single substantiated complaint of anyone intentionally committing voter fraud. Two statewide recounts where each ballot was looked at confirm the lack of voter fraud in the state.
I no longer work in the Office of Secretary of State, nor do I write as a partisan of any party. But it is critical to set the historical record straight. Knowing the facts as I do, it appears to me that these false allegations being made of Ritchie regarding military voting are simply partisan political attacks.
Todd Pierce is a former employee with the Secretary of State’s office.