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Audit faults secretary of state over procedures

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- A state audit has faulted Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer's office for some procedural discrepancies in how it implemented a new federal law intended to make voting simpler.

But the report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor did not address a larger issue regarding the new federal Help America Vote Act: whether the secretary of state's office used the new law and the accompanying money to help increase voter turnout.

Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the country last November, with 77 percent of those eligible going to the polls, the highest level since 1960. Nationwide, an estimated 59.6 percent of eligible Americans voted in the presidential race.

The review of Kiffmeyer's implementation of HAVA focused on the $5.7 million in federal money her office spent. The audit, which was released July 7, said her office charged "an unreasonable amount" of payroll costs -- roughly $312,000 -- toward developing a state plan to implement the new law.

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"Employees continued to charge time worked to developing the state plan, long after it had been issued," the audit said.

The audit also questioned roughly $104,000 in advertising costs, much of it for "Get-Out-the-Vote" commercials, that were labeled as costs for developing a state plan to implement the law.

Responding to the audit, Kiffmeyer said in a letter that last year was the first election held since HAVA was adopted in 2002, and that it was the first time her office had received federal funds. "This has been a learning experience," she wrote.

While Kiffmeyer conceded there were some discrepancies in how the money was accounted for, she said the audit found no violations of federal law.

Claudia Gudvangen, the state's deputy legislative auditor, said the audit was financial and did not address voter registration policy questions under HAVA.

That issue arose during the 2004 presidential election when Kiffmeyer's Democratic critics charged that she was trying to impede voter registration by interpreting the law too strictly.

The Republican has taken her lumps for her performance as the state's leading election official, but she got some praise and sympathy from her colleagues at a National Association of Secretaries of State conference in St. Paul on Monday.

Several secretaries of state agreed that since the 2000 election, the job of overseeing elections has become tougher and more controversial than ever before.

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, urged the group to take criticism and suspicion in stride, to realize that they "live in the freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world," and to "step back from the mechanics of what you do and appreciate the unbelievable beauty of what you do."

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