1 Extra Letter Sends Minn. Voters to Wrong Website
One extra character - the letter 'r' - in a website domain name included in the Minnesota Secretary of State's official voter's guide sent voters not to the intended state elections page but to a group suing Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in federal court and that is in favor of the Voter ID constitutional amendment that Richie adamantly opposes.
"I thought it was a joke," laughed Andy Cilek, executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, a group whose website unexpectedly appeared in the Secretary of State's brochure.
"We have clashed with (Ritchie). We have clashed with him. And in fact we have a federal lawsuit (against him)," Cilek said, referring to a complaint that was dismissed at the District Court level but is being appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I had to do a double take. I didn't really believe it," Cilek said of his reaction to learning of the inadvertent plug by the office of the state's top elections official.
The web link mistake was published in the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State's 2012 Guide to Voting which was posted on its website; the erroneous website was also included in a news release emailed to reporters on Aug. 13, 2012.
The mistake was apparently not noticed until 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS told Secretary of State assistant communications director Patricia K. Turgeon, who promptly took responsibility and issued a corrected news release.
"I wrote the copy and designed the handout," Turgeon wrote 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in an email Tuesday. "The mistake is solely mine and I take complete responsibility (for) the typo... (mnvotes.org) contains direct links to the voter registration lookup, absentee ballot lookup and the polling location finder."
A records search shows the Minnesota Voters Alliance registered its web address, mnvoters.org, in 2005. The Secretary of State created its site, mnvotes.org five years later in 2010.
Turgeon did not address questions as to whether the Office was aware of the site mnvoters.org in 2010 or whether it had considered a different web site address before deciding on the one it chose.
The domain name, "was chosen simply because it was a domain name that was available," Turgeon wrote in a follow-up email.
The incident should be a cautionary tale for government agencies or large businesses seeking to purchase domain names, according to Jon Schindel, a business attorney at SeilerSchindel who specializes in internet and e-commerce law.
"They weren't careful and they picked the wrong website," said Schindel.
Schindel says he advises companies that when deciding on a web site name that they be sure to check for similar domain names or even purchase alternate spellings to sites to make sure someone else does not.
"I think as people register domain names, especially someone with the visibility of the Secretary of State or large companies, you really got to take the time," Schindel said in an interview at the firm's St. Louis Park office.
"It's a lot of work, but you certainly would be looking for websites that are going to direct people in the wrong place," said Schindel.
When asked what happens when companies don't, Schindel responded, "Then you get what happened here."