After a year full of elections, Pine Technical and Community College hosted a voter and election forum on Monday, Sept. 16. A discussion was moderated by Denine Rood, vice president of academic and student affairs at PTCC. Three panelists were each invited to answer two questions. Secretary of State, Steve Simon; PTCC Government and History Faculty, Dr. Phil Darg; and Pine County Auditor-Treasurer, Kelly Schroeder were each asked the questions “Does my vote count?” and “Does my vote matter?”
Overall the panelists addressed issues with voting and elections that Americans face. Voter integrity, security, issues of suppression and some specific problems faced by Pine County this past year with the running of special elections.
Just two days after taking the job as Pine County Auditor-Treasurer Kelly Schroeder got the news that a special election would need to be hosted. The Pine County offices worked very hard to notify voters about the use of the mail system with the deadline for the election. Communication was a big task.
Secretary of State Steve Simon addressed the length of time allowed during these special elections. The legislation detailing the process of a special election requires that a new representative be put in place during session as soon as possible. The window is narrow and a bill has already appeared during the last session in front of the senate. During the next house session it is Simon’s hope that the bill will extend the special election period in these circumstances by two weeks.
One of the issues that was discussed at length was the upcoming presidential primary in Minnesota. Previously run by a caucus system, nominating candidates for the main parties in Minnesota will now be done by a primary election. The large turnout during the 2016 presidential campaigns led to massive turnouts at caucuses that resulted in a limitation for voter access. Large crowds discouraged people from participating.
On March 3, for the first time in nearly 70 years, a binding presidential primary will be held in Minnesota. Unlike other states, Minnesota does not have party registration for voters. During this primary, voters will be given a party specific ballot. In order to pass this legislation Minnesota representatives were required by the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention to release the list of voters to them. Original legislation had this information available to the public.
With the negotiation of data release only to the national conventions, Minnesota representatives and the Secretary of State’s office worked hard to put together a training that will allow voters at the poll to keep their political affiliations private. Things like ballot return, checking in to vote and blank ballot availability will be done in a way that preserves the voter’s ability to keep their information secure from community members there voting alongside them.
Above all, the importance of voting was stressed during this forum. This was the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment in Minnesota. Secretary of State Simon shared how his grandmother, born in 1902, felt about gaining the right to vote. “Our vote is our voice,” said Simon. The main reasons, he said, were that voting is the main way citizens can express their views; it is a voice for democracy. The right to vote has been fought for and won with great cost, and finally it is a way for districts and areas to get attention from representatives.
Disillusioned non-voters were also addressed by the panel. Although Minnesota was the number one state in voter turnout for the 2016 and 2018 elections and the number one state in youth turn out for the 2018 election, there were still registered voters who didn’t turn out to vote. The “dirty secret” of the legislature is that those districts that have larger numbers turn out for voting usually get more attention. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Simon.
Using non-voting as an act of rebellion is not something encouraged. Instead of protesting, non-voters are simply giving up their voice. These votes are important. Schroeder pointed out that a significant number of local and county elections were decided by less than a 10% margin. During presidential election years, voter turnout in Pine County is about 80% and in interim elections it is about 67%.
The panel ended with questions from the audience. Due to the limited time, questions were encouraged to be sent to Secretary of State Simon via email or phone call to his office.