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Over the past few months I have worked with this community and thousands of others across the country to bring attention and resources to secretary of state races.  

And we are making an impact. USA Today covered our work on the front page of the paper and our candidates are using the resources we've all provided to wage vigorous campaigns.

But we aren't done.

One of the most vital races for secretary of state  is in Minnesota. The current Secretary of State, Mary Kiffmeyer, is Ken Blackwell and Katherine Harris in the making. She has shown time and time again that she is not interested in making it easier to vote - and not afraid of being partisan, using everything from fliers about terrorists to scare voters to trying to pass a voter ID law.

But we have a great candidate to make sure Kiffmeyer doesn't have a chance to join the ranks of Blackwell and Harris -- Mark Ritchie.

Heartland PAC is endorsing his campaign as he runs for secretary of state. He's up against an entrenched Republican in Minnesota, Mary Kiffmeyer -- but he has our backing because he will protect our right to vote He knows first hand what can happen when a secretary of state doesn't protect this fundamental right - and even actively undermines it.

He found out by running one of the largest voter drives of 2004: November 2, a nonpartisan group that registered some 5 million people across the country. He hit roadblocks in places you might expect -- Florida and Ohio -- but also back home in Minnesota:



While the heavy-handed tactics of Ken Blackwell and the ongoing dispute over the 2004 Ohio vote got most of the headlines, Ritchie says he became convinced that Minnesota could not have fully free and fair elections under Kiffmeyer, who he said consistently tried to hamper his organization's efforts to register more Minnesotans to vote.

He said her office made it difficult for groups like his to get voter registration cards and tried to block the state's Native American population from voting, by refusing to accept federally-issued identification cards as valid proof of residence.



The situation so concerned Ritchie that after returning home to Minnesota following the election, he began thinking about how to fight back against the increasingly partisan attack on voting rights. In the end, he decided to resign as longtime director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and launch a campaign to unseat Kiffmeyer.

What galled him were underhanded tactics: giving out bad information about when and how to register to vote, and undercutting and speaking against same-day voter registration, a proud Minnesota tradition. It gets worse: in 2004 Kiffmeyer sent precinct officials a terror alert to post in polling places before election day, warning that "cars riding low on springs" and people wearing "herbal/flower water or perfume" could be terrorists attempting to disrupt Minnesota elections.

Today, she backs voter-ID rules to make it tough for students, the elderly and the poor to vote, and at the legislature, she's weighed in for a bill to force people to carry a driver's license in order to vote. In 2002, she even tried to gum up efforts to send new absentee ballots to voters who mailed their choices before the tragic plane crash that caused the death of Paul Wellstone.

Elect Mark Ritchie, and Kiffmeyer won't become a household name in 2008. Instead, Mark Ritchie will work to make sure all Minnesotans have their right to vote protected.

Mark Ritchie pledges to work for initiatives we care about: restoring people's trust in voting machines by giving people a paper trail, protecting same-day registration, and helping more youth get involved in the electoral process. More to the point, he wants to run a nonpartisan office -- and to stop the slanted conduct that undermines the confidence people deserve in the voting process.

Go to his website to learn more about Mark Ritchie, and decide how you can help -- make a contribution, or volunteer, You can even make him your MySpace friend -- with 59 so far, the sky's the limit.

Minnesota deserves fair elections, and Minnesotans deserve a chief elections officer they can trust. Please join me in helping Mark Ritchie because he has the talent to make people believe in fair elections again - and that's exactly what we are fighting for.

Originally posted to Tom Vilsack on Tue Aug 29, 2006 at 07:37 AM PDT.

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