By Clay Schuldt
Special to the Caledonia Argus
The 51st Annual Houston County Township Association Meeting was particularly momentous this year when Secretary of State Mark Ritchie agreed to give the keynote address.
The event was held at the Four Seasons Community Center in Caledonia on Sept. 19 and was attended by several county officials and political candidates.
Ritchie focused his speech on the importance of voting, explaining that Minnesota currently has the highest voter turnout in the nation and wished for that to remain the same. Ritchie said he felt that voting in rural townships like Houston County was especially important.
“As the nation urbanizes, rural communities have fewer people as a percentage. Largely, that results in fewer representatives in the
government,” Ritchie said. “Our voice must remain strong and even get stronger. It needs to become more unified, more articulate, more visionary and more grounded.”
The secretary’s hope is to keep Minnesota’s government balanced in order to prevent rural verses urban conflicts. Ritchie cited an example of the growing imbalance last year.
During the state shutdown a group of legislators went to court demanding that the Central Notification System, which is run through the Secretary of State’s Office, be closed down.
However, as Ritchie explained, shutting down the Central Notification System would have stopped the buying and selling of corn and cattle in Minnesota. It would have also halted international adoptions.
Ritchie said this was an example of those in the legislator not understanding or trusting the government to work. “As a society we decided there are things we need to do together,” he said.
The secretary explained that one of the most important aspects of his office is promoting democracy and the most visible method is through elections. Ritchie holds the title of Chief Elections Officer for Minnesota, but admitted that he does not run the elections, and in fact believes the townships have more responsibility, saying, “Elections are run at the most local level.”
Ritchie suggested methods for increasing voter turnout, including bringing voting equipment to high schools and the Voting in Honor of a Veteran Campaign.
He addressed the Constitutional voter ID amendment by providing information. Ritchie brought copies of the proposed amendment to the meeting and explained how provisional balloting would impact local budgets.
“It’s important that the citizens take the time and actually read what is going into the constitution because it will not be on the ballot,” he said.
Ritchie attempted to keep his speech non-partisan, but at the end he did acknowledge the political grid-lock in Congress. “It does come with our political system,” he said. “But one of the benefits of being the Chair of our State’s Civil War Sesquicentennial task force is I am immersed each week with information about when our nation was really at war and divided.”
“From that Civil War, that time of really terrible political conflict, there was a chance to clarify the values of the nation, to put freedom, to put liberty and justice for all front and center,” Ritchie said. “There is a lot of struggle and banging around, but people have some basic values that do bring us together when we must and do come together.”
Secretary Ritchie closed his speech by encouraging citizens of the Houston County Township Association to invest in our gifted values through voting.
“We have another chance in November to do that work of taking care of this place. My job is making sure that day goes smooth; your job is making sure the future of our state is strong and it is in the direction you want.”