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Snapshot of secretary of state race

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ST. PAUL - The big issue in Minnesota's secretary of state race is clear: whether voters should present photo identification cards before casting ballots.

Republican challenger Dan Severson said photo IDs are a must to ensure fair elections, and he is making it the cornerstone of his campaign.

Incumbent Democrat Mark Ritchie does not see voter fraud as a problem, pointing to national praise he received for handling the hotly contested 2008 U.S. Senate race, and said there is more to his office, and the race, than voter photo IDs.

Ritchie is wrapping up his first four-year term in the $90,227-a-year job. Severson has served the Sauk Rapids area in the state House for eight years.

Jual Carlson of the Independence Party also is in the race but did not schedule an interview or provide information for this story.

Two statements show the major candidates' opposite views:

  • "We have a system that doesn't have a lot of loopholes," Ritchie said.
  • "We have a system that is not being closely monitored and is open to abuse and fraud," Severson countered.

Ritchie said the 2008 election and recount, which he orchestrated under a national spotlight, presented "a clear picture" of where changes were needed. The Democrat said he worked with legislators and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty to make needed absentee ballot law changes earlier this year.

With Republican and Democratic election judges at each polling place, Ritchie said, there are solid checks and balances in place to catch problems, so major changes, such as photo IDs, should not be needed.

Republicans who supported GOP Sen. Norm Coleman's re-election bid two years ago never found fraud in the Senate race, Ritchie said, proving the election went well.

Severson strongly hints that Ritchie helped give the 2008 election to Democrat Al Franken, who won by 312 votes after a recount and court challenge. Severson points to a constant loss of Coleman votes through the process after the GOP candidate led by more than 700 votes the morning after the election.

In the end, Ritchie said, the state recount board could not agree on how to count just 14 ballots, which he said is a good record out of nearly 3 million cast.

"The actual accuracy of the process was stunning," the secretary said, adding that the recount was conducted in public with lawyers from both sides following every move.

Photo IDs like Severson demands would lower voter turnout, Ritchie said, because up to 200,000 Minnesotans do not have identification cards such as driver's licenses. Even more than that number, such as military personnel overseas, vote by mail, and a photo ID requirement may mean they could not vote, he said.

Severson said his proposal would provide free IDs to those who need them and could take into account overseas voters.

The ex-Navy fighter pilot and lawmaker said he has traveled Minnesota to investigate and has found "many" stories about voting problems. Most could be fixed by requiring voters to show IDs, he said, something polls show a majority of Americans support.

If a photo ID card was swiped through a device, much like a credit card reader, local governments that run elections would pay for less paperwork, Severson said. Now, poll workers go through books to find voters' names, but he said, that process would be simpler, faster and more accurate if a card were used.

The state's same-day registration law leads to about 54,000 people not giving correct addresses, Severson said, which also could be cured by requiring a photo ID.

Ritchie complained that too much attention was focused on rare voter fraud in the campaign.

The office's 75 employees spend about two-thirds of their time on non-election items, mostly registering businesses. When new businesses register, the incumbent said, staff members direct them to other state and private organizations that may be of assistance.

Mark Ritchie

  • DFL Party
  • Age: 58
  • Home: Minneapolis
  • Political experience: One term as secretary of state.
  • Other experience: Minnesota Agriculture Department trade analyst. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy president.
  • Education: Iowa State University.
  • Family: Wife, Nancy Gaschott.

Dan Severson

  • Republican Party
  • Age: 56
  • Home: Sauk Rapids
  • Political experience: Eight years as Minnesota House member.
  • Other background: 21 years as naval officer and pilot. Substitute teacher.
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in physics from numerous military schools.
  • Family: Wife, Cathy Jo. Two children.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.