We’ve heard for years that “all politics is local” – a phrase attributed to former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill.
This year, we also need to remember that all elections are local. General election day is Nov. 3, the day the entire country votes for a president as well as a long ballot of other federal, state and yes, local officials.
But there’s not one national ballot, set of rules or vote count. The final result for president lies in the hands of tens of thousands of state and local election workers – professionals and paid volunteers – who actually carry out the election.
States set the rules such as voting hours and registration requirements and maintain voter rolls while county and city officials pick polling places and ensure each eligible voter can cast a secure secret ballot.
When you hear debate about election security, keep in mind those local individuals and the election judges at thousands of polling places actually make sure there’s a free and fair election.
Election judges swear an oath to “perform the duties of election judge according to law and the best of my ability and will diligently endeavor to prevent fraud, deceit and abuse in conducting this election. I will perform my duties in a fair and impartial manner and not attempt to create an advantage for my party or for any candidate.”
Judges take that oath seriously so every eligible voter who is entitled to a ballot gets one. Voting and tabulation take place in secret so no one knows how a person voted.
In Minnesota, there’s a paper trail for the entire process. Every ballot needs to be backed up by a receipt the voter signs. On election night, the number of voters and the numbers of ballots must match. A machine scans the ballot and kicks out totals, but behind that count is a paper trail that can be verified. Paper ballots and vote totals are reviewed by city, county and state election officials several times before an election is ultimately certified by the state canvassing board. Voter rolls track who votes where to block people from voting in more than one place or a person pretending to be someone else.
A similar process is followed for absentee or mail-in ballots. Your ballot goes in an unmarked envelope that you seal. Then that’s placed in another envelope marked with your registration information that you sign. Both those envelopes go into a third envelope that’s mailed or dropped off with election officials.
As the election season heats up, politicians talk about voter suppression – acts that discourage people from exercising their right to vote. Those efforts include raising false claims of voter fraud and threats to intimidate people at the polls. Minnesota’s laws are very clear about who is allowed in polling places. Donald Trump stirred up the debate when he said, “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals.”
That won’t happen. Trump has no authority to order sheriffs or anybody else into polling places.
Minnesota does not allow “poll watchers.” Challengers are allowed but their actions are narrowly limited. Each party may appoint one challenger and the only action a challenger may take is to contest a voter’s eligibility, if they have personal knowledge of that voter’s ineligibility. Suspicion is not a basis for making a challenge. The challenger can’t confront the voter and the challenge must be made in writing to an election judge. The challenger can’t keep lists of who is voting.
An election judge can call a law-enforcement officer to remove a disorderly person.
Trump may have gotten his inspiration from previous Republican Party efforts to intimidate voters. In the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial race, a Republican Party program that sent off-duty police officers to patrol polling places in heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods triggered accusations of voter intimidation, resulting in a federal agreement that restricted for decades how the national GOP could observe voting.
For more information about how you can vote and what rules must be followed, go to mnvotes.org. You don’t have to wait until Nov. 3. Right now, you can request a mail-in ballot and early in-person voting begins in just two weeks on Sept. 18.