Two Southwesters vie for Secretary of State

Ritchie, Sande will seek DFL endorsement June 9-11

Two Southwest residents are hoping to become the next secretary of state, but they'll have to face each other first.

ECCO resident Mark Ritchie and East Isles resident Christian Sande are vying for the DFL endorsement for the office of secretary of state. Each hopes to win the backing of an estimated 1,300 DFL delegates at the state endorsing convention, which will take place June 9-11 in Rochester.

Both candidates are vocal in their criticism of incumbent Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, saying that she has politicized the office that ensures that the voting process runs fairly and legally. Ritchie and Sande have outlined their own plans that will focus on restoring the credibility they say the office has lost under Kiffmeyer - a Republican - and making the secretary of state's office more accessible to Minnesotans. In addition to the administration of elections, the secretary of state is also responsible for recording business documents and filing and preserving the official documents of the state.

The other DFL candidate running for secretary of state is Dick Franson, who ran against Kiffmeyer in 1998. Bruce Kennedy is running as an independent candidate. Kiffmeyer has not yet announced if she is running for re-election this fall. She was re-elected in 2002, winning 47.6 percent of the vote in a four-way contest.

But before Ritchie and Sande can focus solely on convincing voters the office of secretary of state needs a change in leadership, they will need to convince DFL delegates that they are the candidate who should move forward with the party's backing.

Ritchie, 54, has lived in Minneapolis for 25 years and has spent the past 15 years working on nonpartisan voter registration, election protection and get out the vote campaigns. He organized a grassroots voter registration drive in 2004 called November 2. His work during that election cycle and the frustration he felt with the secretary of state's office compelled him to run.

&#8220This is a campaign designed to open up the office and make sure that Minnesotans not only feel welcome, but able to participate,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie said the secretary of state needs to reach out to young people, familiarizing them with the voting process and making it easier for college students to vote in the city where they're attending school. He said the office also needs to regain the trust of voting officials at the local levels and work to continually improve election technology.

&#8220What I'm bringing to all aspects of the office is 21st-century leadership. And that means inspiring staff, bringing in new technology and making sure it's secure,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie grew up in Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University in 1971. For the past 20 years, he served as the president of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Sande, 37, has practiced election law for 10 years. He said his work defending the rights of American Indians to use their tribal identifications to vote is one of several voting rights cases that prompted him to run for secretary of state. He charges that the current office has lost its credibility, and Minnesotans turn to nonprofit groups and private lawyers rather than the secretary of state when they feel their voting rights have been threatened.

&#8220What if the general sense in our nation was that if you have a question about your taxes, don't call the IRS? Imagine what a disaster that poses,” Sande said. &#8220And that's what we have here. We have nonprofit groups and their standard advice is, ‘Call this 1-800 number for help.' My first response is, ‘Why is that number not the secretary of state's number?'”

Sande said he will not run for higher office while serving as secretary of state. He also wants to institute an elevated ethics code for the office and work to reach out to local elected officials and residents across the state. He has outlined these goals in a program called SOS Works, a comprehensive plan for what he would do while serving as secretary of state.

&#8220I am focused on restoring credibility to that office,” Sande said.

Sande grew up in New Brighton and graduated from Hamline University in 1990 and the William Mitchell College of Law in 1996.

For more information about Ritchie's campaign, visit www.markritchie06.net.

For more information about Sande's campaign, visit www.christiansande.org.

Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at kvanderveen@mnpubs.com and 436-4373.