The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was the closest election in well over a century and will be remembered in history for the controversy over the re-count process in the state of Florida.


The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was the closest election in well over a century and will be remembered in history for the controversy over the re-count process in the state of Florida.

It was that election which lead to Congress passing the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, which set forth requirements meant to ensure voter rights and privacy.

States received federal funding to develop and implement procedures for compliance with HAVA.
The state of Minnesota received hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement a uniform statewide voter registration and election system.

Counties throughout the state received new voting tabulators and software along with new guidelines for voter and poll worker education, training and measures to determine success of the new procedures. Assisted voting machines were also purchased for the vision or hearing impaired.

They spent a lot of money,” said Chippewa County Audi­tor/Treasurer Jon Clauson. “But I gotta say, it works!”

Clauson is responsible for the voting process and ballots in Chippewa County. Words he uses to describe the new equipment and software include “efficient,” “accurate” and “stable.”

Initially some precincts in the county had to combine, which Clauson said was a bit of a challenge at the time, but ultimately has worked out for the best.

“Now our method of counting votes is very accurate andreporting results to the state is very fast compared to what it used to be,” said Clauson.

Each precinct has identical equipment. As the ballots are placed into the machine by the voter, the votes are read and tabulated and saved to a memory card. The card is taken out of the machine, plugged into the reader and the results are uploaded to St. Paul. They are never touched by human hands.

The machines also let the voter know if there is an error on the ballot. For example, if two candidates are marked in­stead of one, the machine will beep and the screen will let the voter know what the error is.

By simply pressing one button or the other the voter can either send the ballot through, or get it back and fill out a new one correcting their error. Election judges are present should someone need assistance.

Each precinct used to bring its ballots to the courthouse where they would be sent through a machine to count the votes. Precinct representatives would sometimes have to wait for hours for the votes to be counted.

The new system makes the voting process more efficient, but there is still an extensive amount of testing and reviews leading up to the election. Clauson and his staff have been preparing for this election for several months.

Clauson reviews all the ballots for accuracy, then sends them to each city and township for further review. Once all have been deemed accurate, a set of test ballots is printed and the machine is tested for accuracy.

Another public test is done the week before the election. Notice is posted in the newspaper and anyone interested may attend.

Clauson said typically no one shows up although when they first started using the new equipment, some people did show up. They were allowed to feed the ballots and take part in the testing process.

“I think they came away feeling better about it as opposed to being skeptical,” said Clauson.

On election day, the system is again tested. After all the votes are in, Clauson does a type of audit by choosing two precincts and manually counting the votes for the state and federal offices then comparing them to the tabulator count.

“It’s a transparent system,” Clauson says. “You can tear it all apart and see that its accurate.”

Though the days have been long for Clauson and his staff, Laura Leese and Molly Vonderharr, especially with the absence of Fay Harms, by Clauson’s account, they are quite happy with the Minnesota voting system.

“One of the benefits of this software is that it almost has the ability to predict which offices are going to be on the ballot each year, based on the previous years,” said Clauson. “I think as time progresses it’s going to become even better.”