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MN Senate to debate resuming online voter registration set to be shut down by judge

ST. PAUL – A judge says Minnesota’s online voter registration system is illegal, but senators today will debate a law change to allow it.

Senators plan to take up a bill House members passed 129-2 earlier this month, but Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he does not know if the measure has Republican support.

Gov. Mark Dayton often has said that he would sign election-related legislation only if it received “broad bipartisan support,” and Monday evening the governor hinted that the bill already has the bipartisan support it needs.

“Fifty-nine Republican House members voted for the bill, which is 66 percent of all the Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature,” Dayton said. “That certainly qualifies the bill as bipartisan. It is my hope that the Senate will pass the bill with the same strong bipartisan support.”

The Senate debate was to come Monday, but hours before the discussion was to begin a Ramsey County judge ruled Secretary of State Mark Ritchie illegally set up an online registration system last fall. Judge John Guthmann said, as had lawmakers of both parties, that state law did not give Ritchie that authority.

“If the Legislature intended to sanction electronic delivery of voter registration application in all cases, it could have done so,” Guthmann wrote.

Guthmann said state law specifically says a voter registration application must be signed by the would-be voter on paper.

The judge ordered Ritchie to end online registration at midnight today, but said the registration of anyone who already had registered via the Internet would be valid.

The House-passed bill and a similar one sponsored by Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, would provide the needed legal authorization.

Sieben said that she plans to bring up the House measure today, so it can immediately head to Dayton to become law instead of being considered by a House-Senate conference committee. She said it is possible the new law could take effect immediately after midnight when the judge ordered the Ritchie system to end.

“The important thing is that we are going to pass a bill that allows for online voter registration in Minnesota tomorrow and will become effective very shortly,” Sieben said Monday.

Republican senators, whose votes are not needed to pass the bill, are not happy with today’s bill because “there is no website security or data security in the House bill that is satisfactory to us,” Newman said.

Ritchie said he disagrees with the judge’s ruling, but “we look forward to the Minnesota Legislature making online registration permanent.”

Ritchie, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, said online registration is cheaper than the all-paper system. Under his program and the bill being considered today, Minnesotans still may register on paper.

Since the Ritchie plan launched Sept. 26, 3,631 Minnesotans registered online.

The lawsuit was brought by the Minnesota Voters’ Alliance, Minnesota Majority and Republican state Reps. Mary Franson of Alexandria, Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Ernie Leidiger of Mayer and Jim Newberger of Becker.

Drazkowski celebrated Monday.

“Our lawsuit to stop Secretary Mark Ritchie’s illegal spending yields a big win for Minnesota citizens,” he tweeted.

Ritchie online registration brought a quick response from legislators of both parties who said that state law only allows the Legislature to make such a decision. The judge agreed with lawmakers.

Before September, Guthmann wrote, “Minnesota voters could register to vote in multiple ways but, with some exceptions, each way required the physical completion and delivery of a paper form. Each registration method is expressly authorized by statute.”

Don Davis, INFORUM

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