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Ritchie pushes early voting

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on Wednesday unveiled a series of election-reform proposals for the Legislature to consider. Ritchie will push for an earlier primary election, early voting and changes to the state's election recount laws. Staff photo by Scott Wente

ST. PAUL - Lessons from 2008 guide Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's 2009 legislative agenda.

The state's top election official is calling for an earlier primary election, a new in-person voting system ahead of Election Day and fundamental changes to Minnesota's absentee voting laws.

"Our system is basically sound," Ritchie said Wednesday. "But we also have the opportunity to see some of the things that we could make improvements on."

The proposals come after Minnesota led the nation in voter turnout in the November election and after the state saw the number of people voting absentee increase.

Ritchie wants lawmakers to consider an earlier primary election, such as in August rather than September. He said that would give election officials more time to prepare general election ballots.

Some reforms stem from the unresolved U.S. Senate race. Ritchie, a Democrat, wants to streamline how absentee ballots are handed and drop some absentee ballot requirements.

The secretary also proposes an early, in-person voting program. Voters could go to a central location in a county or city - a government building or possibly even a shopping center - to cast their ballot weeks before Election Day.

Ritchie said election officials from the Moorhead area told him North Dakota's early voting system works well and Minnesota should consider a similar program.

The secretary also wants to implement an automatic voter registration program and to allow voters to check their registration status online.

Ritchie's predecessor, Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, said she had pushed for many of the same changes during her eight-year tenure However, Kiffmeyer, now a state representative, raised concerns about the early voting plan.

An earlier primary election is the most important element, said St. Louis County Auditor-Treasurer Don Dicklich, who was among local election officials joining Ritchie at a Capitol complex news conference.

Early, in-person voting only will be possible if local officials have time to transition from the primary to the general election, Dicklich said.