The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 13, 2014

E-poll book regulations advance

Gustavus professor helped guide Legislature

ST. PAUL — The state is set to approve new regulations for electronic poll books, though the lack of funding has dimmed Blue Earth County’s enthusiasm to be an early adopter.

The House and Senate compromised Monday after talks stalled last week over a relatively minor detail. The Senate acceded to the House’s insistence that computerized rosters of voters not change an old-fashioned tool to maintain election integrity.

The detail didn’t have much to do directly with e-poll books but instead reopened a longstanding debate on voter “receipts,” those slips of paper voters exchange for a ballot, said Max Hailperin, a math and computer science professor at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Hailperin was part of a 15-member task force that Gov. Mark Dayton appointed to investigate e-poll books.

Though it seemed like a detail, Hailperin said the sticking point in House-Senate negotiations goes to the core of elections.

“The key thing with election administration is that it has to be more than merely accurate. It has to be confidence inspiring,” he said. “Losers have to really believe they’ve lost, fair and square.”

To that end, election judges have behind-the-scenes procedures to ensure the number of ballots equals the number of voters.

One way to do this is to count signatures in the poll book and match it up with the ballots cast. Under Minnesota’s e-poll book regulations, the new machines would print out a voter certificate, which would be signed by the voter, much like the old poll books.

The quarrel here revolves around another such check — the little slips of paper (“receipts”) that voters exchange for a ballot after checking in.

“There have been fairly heated arguments about trying to eliminate the option of counting receipts and insist on counting signatures in the book," Hailperin said.

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