Lawmakers don’t like online voter registration bypassing them

By Don Davis

Lawmakers from both parties say that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie should not have started online voter registration without first obtaining legislative approval.

But until the next legislative session begins Feb. 25, there is little they can do other than to ask Ritchie to quit.

There is no sign the Democratic secretary of state will stop the new service. Since he put up the Internet site, he frequently has promoted it, even after lawmakers, a House researcher and the legislative auditor said that it would be better to pass a law allowing online registration.

Senate Republican leaders had asked for a committee meeting on the issue, which Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, quickly granted, saying she agreed that the new system should have gone through the Legislature.

On Tuesday, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, asked Sieben to join them in writing Ritchie a letter asking him to suspend the online registration. Sieben did not immediately respond.

Ritchie said the online service would save taxpayer money and it was secure and convenient. Paper registration still is allowed, but Internet registration would be especially good for voters such as those in the service overseas, he said.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles has said that his office will investigate online voter registration, but did not say when.

A nonpartisan House analyst released a report saying that that state law requires voters to register “in person or by mail” before election day, with no reference to online registration. Voters also may register in person at the polls.

“This tool delivers a convenient method for people to register in a safe and secure environment, while reducing costs and voter roster errors,” Ritchie said. “Minnesotans can take pride in this system that is modernizing and streamlining the voter registration process.”

Since Web registration began, Ritchie’s office reports, more than 1,125 applications have been submitted for new registrations or updated ones.

Most applications have been from the Twin Cities area, with about 450 from Hennepin County alone.

Tuesday was the deadline to pre-register for Nov. 5 elections in some communities.

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