For almost four decades, Joe Mansky was a quiet, steadying force in Minnesota elections, a behind-the-scenes expert who knew the details of election laws and procedures.
He spent two decades with Secretary of State Joan Growe’s office, rising to state elections director, before overseeing redistricting under Gov. Jesse Ventura and moving to the top elections job in Ramsey County in 2002. He retired in 2019.
Here are some of Mansky’s thoughts, edited for space reasons, on the eve of Minnesota’s 2020 presidential primary.
Q: What’s the story behind the “I Voted” stickers and buttons?
A: Joan Growe returned from a national meeting, saw another state was using stickers and asked me to make one for Minnesota. I thought it was a crazy idea, but I sketched out the red-and-white design and we found a printer to produce them for free. We began distributing them in the 1992 state primary. I walked downtown St. Paul for lunch that day and almost everyone was wearing a sticker. When I got back, I walked into Joan’s office and said, “You were right and I was wrong.”
In 2017 I got a small supply of buttons and made them available to people who voted early at our office in St. Paul. The next year, I ordered 10,000 more.
Q: What’s your take on election fraud?
A: The accuracy of vote counting has improved tenfold over the last 35 years. The error rate of our new voting systems — actually the rate at which voters improperly mark their ballots — is now just two in 10,000 votes.
The reality is that subversion of our election systems by determined, highly motivated and destructive individuals and organizations, foreign and domestic, is a far, far greater threat to the integrity of our state and national electoral process than voter fraud.
Q: What can be done to make elections safer?
A: First, Minnesota needs a third-generation statewide voter registration system. Trust me — as one of its designers — our current system was not set up to deal effectively with the security issues that confront us today. A new system could include a person’s driver’s license photo, signature and biometric identifiers. It would enable voters to electronically authenticate themselves. It will cost about $35 million, a small price to pay for democracy.
Second, we should set up regional centers where people vote in secure public buildings before Election Day.
Third, take our voting systems off the network. By concentrating on physical security, we make our voting system virtually immune from hacking.
Q: What are you doing with your time now?
A: I’m in the process of riding my bike across the country. I also took two weeks last fall to drive Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Q: Any predictions for the 2020 presidential election?
A: A month before the 2016 presidential election, I was telling my friends that I thought Trump would win. So, ask me again in October.