More than 300 people attended the event at the Van Dusen Center in Minneapolis. DFLers Keith Ellison; County Commissioner candidate Gregory Gray; State Sens. Scott Dibble, Linda Higgins and John Hottinger; Minneapolis City Council member Betsy Hodges, and RT Rybak senior aide Peter Wagenius were a few of the politicos in attendance, but the cross-section of activists and community leaders was striking: Better Ballot Campaign's Jeanne Massey and FairVote Minnesota president Tony Solgard; Jay Walljasper, editor for the Project for Public Spaces and Ode magazine; native get-out-the-vote activist Alyssa Burhans, Worldchanging publisher Leif Utne, farmer Bruce Bacon, former Utne editor Julie Ristau, and many others. Considering this unabashedly progressive cast, it wasn't surprising to see the event billed as a "Zero Waste Event"--compost bins for food and waste paper were located at the entrance.
Before Gashott took to the podium, I spoke with Ritchie campaign manager, James Haggar. Because the spending cap for the Secretary of State's race is low--candidates can spend around $220,000 and are limited in how much they can accept from individual donors--events like this are meant to rally support and generate "a lot of smaller checks." (So far, Ritchie's fundraising is nearly twice that of the incumbent, Mary Kiffmeyer.) He says the campaign is going well, given prominence by high-profile cases of voting irregularities here in Minnesota and around the country.
The three issues Haggar thinks will gain traction with voters:
1. "People believe elections should be nonpartisan, regardless of the party" of the secretary of state. He cites Ritchie's 20 years of experience in public service--including creating the nation's largest get-out-the-vote movement (you've likely seen the "November 2" t-shirts).
2. "Make sure we can trust our elections"--that votes are counted correctly, that all eligible voters get the chance to participate, and that they're given the right information on the process. He also wants better enforcement of the new law prohibiting out of state vote challengers (as of this election, people who challenge a voter's eligibility must be from Minnesotans and have personal knowledge of an intended voter's ineligibility).
3. "Get better services to voters, on the business services side, the board of investors, and in elections themselves."
After a rousing introduction by Ellison, Ritchie spoke. He put the race in context--questionable voting decisions made by Mary Kiffmeyer and Katherine Harris--but moved beyond those concerns to challenge the safety of democracy itself.
"Lots of folks believe their only tool for defending themselves from government that's trying to shred democracy-- to hold them accountable for Katrina, to hold them accountable for Iraq--is the vote, and they see the vote being eroded, and they're worried about this." Defending the vote, he says, will be his top priority. And neutrality--not partisanship--is required. He says:
Our secretary of state has looked at the laws that she is supposed to implement, and she's picked the ones to implement that she thinks are going to help Republican candidates. I hate to say it in those partisan terms, but that's the way it's come down. She's picked the ones that were designed to clarify and make voting easier for people who live in group homes, for women who are in battered women's shelters, for people who are young and only have cellphone bills, for native Americans--and she decided she didn't have to implement those laws.While he'll focus on the integrity of voting machines, registration, and polling procedures, he'll also target more nebulous areas of psychology: the beliefs that "one vote doesn't matter or that it doesn't matter who's elected, they're all corrupt, or this belief that the whole system is rigged and nothing can be done."
It's a pattern. This belief that some of us are above the law. Maybe they believe there's a higher law so they don't have to enforce one. Maybe they believe their ideology is so correct that all the rest of us really don't matter. This idea that some laws can be implemented and some laws can be ignored has begun to be part of the body politic, especially of elected leaders and we have to confront that.
It's the last area I'm most concerned aobut. We're articulate about the problems in the system. Yes, big money does control a lot of politics, but it doesn't control everything. Yes, these machines we vote on can be manipulated. [To counter this, Democrats must] lead with hope, lead with inspiration, lead with organization--because that's how we move people forward.Images (top to bottom): Hottinger, Dibble, Ellison, Ritchie, Sen. Steve Kelley; compost bin provided by Eureka Recycling; Higgins, Ritchie, Gray.