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Some problems at the polls still unexplained
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Minnesota saw a record voter turnout on Election Day, but also heard dozens of complaints from voters who had trouble when they showed up at the polls. (MPR file photo)
Some Minnesota voters are still trying to figure out why they weren't on voter registries on election day and have taken their complaints to the Secretary of State and county election officials. At this point, there's still disagreement about what caused the problems.

St. Paul, Minn. — Alissa Doth, 25, registered to vote while renewing her driver's license in 2002. But when she went to vote that year she wasn't on the roster. Doth says maybe she made a mistake on her driver's license form, although she doubts it -- especially since she had problems registering two more times, both in 2003 and again this year.

"I made sure to verify that I was filling out the correct spot, the signature on the right-hand side of the form," says Doth. "I verified with people at the county service center, and showed up to the polls and was not registered."

Minnesota has same-day voter registration, so Doth was able to sign up to vote at her polling place. But she was angry.

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Image Mary Kiffmeyer

"I called a bunch of friends and said, 'I'm a disenfranchised voter. I finally understand what that's like to be a disenfranchised voter,'" says Doth. "And everyone's response was, 'But you got to vote, so why does it matter?' I kind of feel like yes I got to vote, but there still are plenty of people who maybe show up at the polls and maybe didn't have the proper ID, and wouldn't be able to vote."

After last week's election, Doth sent a letter of complaint to Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. Kiffmeyer says she's heard from some voters who had similar problems with Minnesota's Motor Voter registration system, which is run by Driver and Vehicle Services -- but she couldn't quantify the problem.

"The majority of them are coming from the DVS record situation, where there's a mixture of both electronic and paper records," says Kiffmeyer. "Some counties take only paper, some take only electronic, and some do both. That's more of a sticky problem."

Kiffmeyer says there are also a few unexplained reports of voters being dropped from the roster. That's what happened to Ryan Kucera, who lives in St. Paul. Two years ago he voted in his precinct, but he wasn't on the list this year.

"We actually went through the list two or three times and looked for the names, because I knew I was registered and should be in there, and couldn't find the name," says Kucera.

I called a bunch of friends and said, 'I'm a disenfranchised voter. I finally understand what that's like to be a disenfranchised voter.'
- Voter Alissa Doth

Kucera did have his driver's license with him to prove his identity and address. But the problem is still troubling to election officials.

Secretary of State Kiffmeyer thinks some people were removed accidentally when voter registration lists were updated to account for Minnesotans who had died since the last election.

But that explanation doesn't satisfy Hennepin County Elections Manager Pat O'Connor. He thinks the registration problems stem from the state's decision to switch to a new voter registration system just months before the presidential election.

"For those who have registered before, their name should have carried over into the new system through the data conversion processing," says O'Connor. "And my guess is somehow they got dropped in that process."

O'Connor says he knows there were problems with the data, because his employees examined every single voter registration in Hennepin County line-by-line. It took months to look over the more than 700,000 entries.

"We had uncovered quite a number of errors," says O'Connor. "These were brought to the attention of the staff at the Secretary of State's office, and they made the necessary corrections in time for the election."

O'Connor says Hennepin County didn't appear to have any major problems on Election Day. But he suspects that some voters might not have taken the time to complain, especially if they were still able to vote because of same-day registration.

Ramsey County reported some registration glitches too, but Elections Manager Joe Mansky says the problems were small compared to what happened a few days before the election.

"The Friday before the general election, our system actually went down while we were doing absentee voting," says Mansky. "We had 20 to 25 people standing in line, and not able to access the voter registration system -- it was a real problem."

Still, Mansky thinks Minnesota conducted a good election. But he says an even bigger voting challenge lies ahead.

Two years from now, Minnesota will test out $38 million worth of new voting equipment, as part of the federal "Help America Vote Act." The equipment will allow voters in outstate Minnesota to correct mistakes on their ballots - an option many metro voters have had for years.

The law also requires all precincts to make at least one voting station accessible for people with disabilities.

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