The Secretary of State, in Minnesota, oversees elections. In fact, to pull up the ballot that I'm looking at, I go to the SoS website's My Ballot site, which lets me pull up a list of candidates complete with links to their web pages (that was implemented in the last few years — when I started doing this, I always had to Google) and a PDF of a sample ballot.
There is other stuff they do, but I think the big job is the elections. Visiting the main SoS web page it looks like they also handle business filings (okay, that's probably a pretty significant job), notary publics, the Safe At Home program (which an address confidentiality program for people like victims of stalking or domestic violence), a bunch of forms, and some truly random miscellaneous stuff like the state symbols.
Do I really need to persuade anyone reading that it matters quite a lot who's counting the votes? Six years ago, we had a massive hand recount in the U.S. Senate race, in which among other things they had to try to decide what to do with ballots like these: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98272423 ("Lizard People," heh. I'd forgotten about that ballot. There was also someone who just randomly doodled over the whole thing, and a guy who voted for Norm Coleman for Senate, but wrote in Al Franken for Soil & Water.) Some of this stuff gets decided in court, but not all of it.
Mark Ritchie, the DFL Secretary of State, is not running again, so this is an open seat.
Our choices, courtesy of the above-mentioned website:
BOB HELLAND – INDEPENDENCE
DAN SEVERSON – REPUBLICAN
STEVE SIMON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
BOB ODDEN – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
Bob Helland is the Jessecrat. He pushes the point that someone who isn't either a Democrat or a Republican might be a bit more impartial, but he sort of buries that under his primary hobbyhorse, which is that the SoS should focus more on business life cycle management. Having looked at his page, though, I'm not really clear on what it is he wants to do, other than putting out proposals for how we should be adding stuff about this to the high school curriculum. He also talks about working to keep private information confidential and making public information available; is this actually in the job description for SoS or is it just something he's very concerned about? Especially with third-party candidates I don't entirely trust them to be running for the right office (and it's not just third-party candidates; see Matt Entenza.)
Anyway, he does at least have some relevant work experience; he's worked for the MN Department of Revenue and he's done computer stuff, which is a point in his favor.
Here's something I was not expecting: a Republican for a major statewide office who comes across as more of a flake than the Independence guy. Instead of Issues or Positions his link is to "Causes," except it's only one: Count Military Votes First Petition.
I'll just C&P his explanation of the issue. "In the 2010 election in Minnesota less than 5% of Minnesota’s active duty military members votes were counted. Current state policy is to count those votes last after all others. We believe that our active duty military vote should be counted first and in its entirety. If you agree, please sign the petition below. This petition will be delivered on 9/11 to Mark Ritchie, current Minnesota Secretary of State and Rep. Steve Simon, Chair of the Minnesota House of Representatives Elections Committee."
So here's the thing. Absentee votes are counted last. But I'm pretty sure they're all counted; even if they won't swing the big race, you aren't going to know until you look at them whether they'll swing the downticket races, plus you need to get 5% of the votes in a statewide race to qualify as a "major party," which is a pretty big deal for Grassroots, Independence, etc. I was looking to see whether the SoS website confirms that they're all counted (the Iowa SoS does) and I didn't find that but I did find out that I totally could have voted in the primary election because we effectively have early voting now — I could've gone to my county election office and applied in person for an absentee ballot, filled it out, and given it back to them. (Given that statewide turnout was something like 2% of eligible voters I could have felt such a smug sense of moral superiority, too! Dammit.)
Anyway, it's true that a lot of military voters wind up disenfranchised. But it's not because absentee ballots get counted last; the problem is that there are a lot of ways for absentee ballots to get screwed up. The requests get lost, or the ballots get lost, or they arrive too late. As it happens, Minnesota does a lot of stuff right. You can request your absentee ballot via Internet. There's a web form to let you check the status of your absentee ballot. There are states that apparently fail miserably to get the ballots to service members the required 45 days before an election, and there are some U.S. Senators who have pushed for a law saying that if a state drops the ball, they need to foot the bill to express-mail the ballots out (and if things are really late, to express-mail the ballot back, as well). I'm not sure whether Minnesota has had issues with this, but in any case, he's not actually talking about any of the practical steps that we could be taking to ensure that service members overseas are not disenfranchised! Changing the order in which we count the ballots is both symbolic and obstructive (don't the machines actually count the ballots as they go in? at the very least, they put them all in a nice neat stack that can be run through quickly. Ballots get counted by hand for the instant-runoff races and when there's a recount; most of the time, we use machine counts.)
He does have a marginally more substantive set of policy statements tucked under his news posts: http://danseverson.com/severson-solutions-the-first-100-days/
But seriously, this guy is a crank. And yet not only did the Republicans endorse him, he ran unopposed in the primary. What the HECK, guys. You’re a major party. I expect real candidates with whom I passionately disagree, not people who sound like they’re running on the Cranky Old Fart party ticket.
Steve is the DFL candidate. Not surprisingly, he prioritizes voting rights and will resist any attempt to get rid of same-day registration (seriously, same-day registration is so important, and there is zero reason not to have it — it's a crucial protection against stuff like the purging of the ballot rolls that happened in Florida in 2000). He wants to expand early voting. He was a leader in the fight against the Voter ID amendment that got voted down in 2012.
Yeah, this is the guy I want running the next election. No question. And honestly, if my top priority were ensuring that active-duty military people overseas were not disenfranchised, this is also the guy I would pick, given his commitment to making absentee ballots available.
So right now, if you go to Bob Odden's website, you'll see his name and picture and a flag and then, if you read down the page, you see:
Sun Oct 26, 2014
MN Weapons Collectors Ass Gun Show
State Fair Grounds Coliseum
Falcon Heights, MN
I am a member of the MWCA and I will be manning a table for the Libertarian Party of MN.
I blinked at that in baffled disbelief and then googled and realized that (obviously) it is the Minnesota Weapons Collectors ASSOCIATION Gun Show. Not a show that specializes in Ass Guns, whatever those are.
Under issues, he notes that as Secretary of State he intends to carry a gun around and he’s going to encourage his staff to carry one as well. I was thinking that having armed people who are not, like, actual police officers wandering around the building might light a fire under the ass of our State Legislature when considering gun control but it looks from the map like the office of the Secretary of State has its own separate building.
He also has a suggestion for judicial elections: “If a judge quits before their term ends and a judge is appointed to fill that position, that judge can’t run in the next election. That seat must be open to encourage multiple candidates to run for that office. Remove ‘incumbent’ for judges on the ballot. Allow judges to inform the public on their positions and all issues that might come before them as judges.”
That is pretty much the opposite of what I think is a good idea, sooooo yeah, this guy is a big old NOPE.
tl;dr vote for Democrat Steve Simon. (And vote in this race, guys. IT MATTERS WHO THE SECRETARY OF STATE IS.)