Ritchie schools local leaders on ConstitutionMinnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie gave a brief history lesson on the state's Constitution at the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities fall conference on Thursday, November 15.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
The election is over, but repercussions remain. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie addressed a crowd of more than 100 people at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Thursday evening.
Ritchie’s talk focused on the 2012 election turnout and economic development in rural Minnesota. The discussion was part of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities fall conference.
“We had the biggest election in our state’s history,” Ritchie said.
Much of the country had a decline in voter turn-out. Minnesota saw an increase, although a raised population decreased the number of eligible voters.
Ritchie said that a lot of the laws that have been implemented in the last few years have really “gummed up election administration” and some states are still counting ballots.
The secretary of state’s office has been affected by staffing and budget cuts, which, coupled with redistricting, made election preparation a huge process. When Ritchie was elected in 2006, he had a staff of 85; that number is now 53. He divulged that $750,000 was recently “whacked” out of his budget.
Despite thinning of funds and resources in the state, Minnesota remains a top-10 leader in entrepreneurship. Ritchie said Minnesota has one of the highest rates of Fortune 500 countries per capita.
“The way that we have built our state in a diverse economy has given us a resiliency both in employment and in business creation,” Ritchie said.
He joked that good crops and good prices this year caused Mennonites to stop working when agriculture prices went up.
Minnesota has a vibrant small business sector that Ritchie said puts demands on agencies and his office. He made a point to acknowledge the work of election officials, judges and poll workers during the election process. He said he’s prepared to take flak from the public, but when false accusations are directed at a poll worker, that’s not OK by him.
Ritchie said that while the voter ID and marriage amendments on the ballot added complexities, they also opened up the opportunity to explore democracy and the Constitution.
“It gives us a chance to think about ‘who are we as a people’ and what does our Constitution tell us,” Ritchie said.
A brief history lesson on the Minnesota Constitution illuminated the voter ID proposal.
Ritchie said that when the document was drawn up, Democrats revoked the right for free African American men to vote. To become a state, the territory needed to submit a Constitution, so the Republicans negotiated a loop-hole in the form of an easily amended document. Ten years after Minnesota became a state, the Republicans amended the Constitution to restore the right for African American men to vote.
Ritchie said that changing the constitution is a big deal and underscored that voting is a right. He said that policies can make a difference and that the focus should not only be on the process but also on the people.
Ritchie shared that his passion for agriculture and economic development was inherited from his father, a Marine who served in World War II, who saw images of children dying from hunger.
Ritchie said the recent election left the message that Minnesotans are creators, builders and a people who want to make things better.
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a non-partisan, non-profit advocacy organization that includes 80 cities throughout the state not encompassed in the metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul.