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Letter: Minnesota bill makes election data transparent

ST. PAUL—Public trust and confidence in our elections can only be attained if all election data is made available to citizens for inspection and analyses.

The changes proposed in House File 2039 clarify the existing statute and require that all election data be made available to the public.

Incomplete data, which is what's being released to the public now, strangles the ability to test and contest elections.

The bill's changes constitute a major step forward in proving to the public that Minnesota elections are conducted with "rigorous safety measures in place," and that "Minnesotans can have confidence in the integrity of our system," as the secretary of state recently declared.

HF 2039 will enable independent analyses of the accuracy of voter and election data compiled and acted upon by election officials by making public all of the records in the Statewide Voter Registration System. Other analyses will be able to identify how many and specifically who may have voted while ineligible. Such analyses are not now being conducted by the state.

Voters on all sides of any issues will thereby be confident in the performance of election officials and the validity of every election, no matter how close. Candidates will have the data they need to make informed and fast decisions as to whether to contest close elections.

The secretary of state opposes these improvements in transparency because he believes there is inaccurate or out-of-date data in the system, and because some persons may not know the state is tracking certain data on them.

But common sense rejects the idea that "inaccurate" data is better kept secret—in the hands of the government that is in charge of applying what it knows to conducting elections—than made visible, in the hands of the public who can shed light on the errors.

How better to correct the data than to make it public? Why shouldn't a person have access to the information the state is using to manage elections?

The state administrators in charge of managing elections owe a duty to the public to ensure that election data is accurate and up to date. The history of that management is that very little extra has been done to strengthen the accuracy of the data or to identify illegal voting, either before it happens or after.

For example, the secretary of state could have been comparing voting histories with records from the Department of Corrections to determine not only the level of ineligible voting by felons, but specifically which individuals voted.

Private organizations have had to go to great lengths and costs to dig out some of it, and their showings challenge the secretary's unsupported optimism about the faultlessness of our election system.

So, the sad truth at the core of this needed election reform is that the administrators of elections in Minnesota are unconcerned, have no interest and take no steps to analyze and prevent ineligible voting beyond the minimum.

Let me be clear. Election officials ignore certain uses of the data, hide the data from the public and tell citizens the data shows there is no problem. That cycle of cover-up ends with this bill.

For too long, the public has been locked out from this public data. This new day, with the light of day, will enable citizens and candidates to understand with reliability that their confidence in elections is not only warranted but required by the facts.

The secretary professes that the voter data is inaccurate and then concludes it should therefore be suppressed from view. Wouldn't a more natural and productive response be to analyze how big an impact those inaccuracies have on close elections?

In light of the absence of efforts by the secretary's office to do analyses of Statewide Voter Registration System data that would identify inaccurate information, it is unpersuasive for the office to suggest that letting the public, and the affected persons, know what the SVRS and election officials are doing is not in the public interest.

Quite the contrary, it is precisely because the secretary acknowledges that the state's data practices are imperfect and contain errors that the data must be available for those willing to examine its accuracy and the impact of errors on elections.

The secretary, therefore, should welcome the release of the complete set of SVRS data records so that his assurances will be undeniable.

Cilek is executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, an election integrity watchdog group.

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