Auditor, researcher question online voter registration

By Don Davis

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s decision to institute Internet-based voter registration may not be legal, a House researcher and an auditor say.

“In my opinion, implementing online voter registration through legislative enactment is the more sound legal approach to this type of policy change,” House researcher Matt Gehring wrote in a letter requested by legislative Republicans.

On Thursday, state Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said he agrees with that conclusion and at some point will investigate Ritchie’s action.

Ritchie, a Democrat, announced last month that Minnesotans could register to vote online, saying it would save money and it was secure and convenient. Paper registration still would be allowed, he said, but Internet registration would be especially good for voters who live overseas, such as military personnel.

Ritchie released a statement Thursday that made it appear he planned to continue online registration.

“We appreciate the thoughts and comments of the legislative auditor in regard to our online voter registration tool,” Ritchie said. “We look forward to further discussions about the system and how it is helping to modernize Minnesota’s voter registration process and how it was built with safety and security at top-of-mind.”

He said that since the online tool went live Sept. 26, 869 voter applications have been received.

In his analysis, Gehring wrote that state law requires voters to register “in person or by mail” before election day. They also may register in person at the polls.

The Legislature, Gehring wrote, could have included — but did not — Internet registration in 2004 when it updated the law.

“Given the very prescriptive and detailed nature of Minnesota’s election laws, it is difficult to conclude that an online registration system is simply an implied authorization that the Legislature intended to include in the law without further debate, public input and oversight,” Gehring wrote.

Nearly all of the other 18 states that offer online registration, or are in the process of establishing it, did so through a law, he said.

Nobles said the Gehring analysis is “more neutral, non partisan” than one by a Ritchie attorney. The auditor added that Ritchie refuses to release the report that he says provides backing for online registration.

The auditor also said that he wants to investigate data security of online registration, but his top priority in that area is to probe a data breach at MNsure, the state’s new online health insurance website.

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