By Don Davis
Minnesota senators approved online voter registration Tuesday over Republican objections that the bill lacks adequate data security protection.
The vote came a day after a judge ruled the existing system illegal, likely meaning online registration will continue uninterrupted.
Bill sponsor Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove and fellow Democrats rejected eight GOP amendments to include more security provisions. She said it is important to continue allowing voters to register online in light of the judge’s ruling that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie take down his online voter registration site.
“It will be more convenient for voters who want to register to vote,” Sieben said.
Republicans said Sieben was hurrying too fast, at the expense of data security precautions.
“Let’s think this through, not rush it through,” Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, urged.
The Senate approved a House-passed bill 41-24 that does not contain security provisions Republicans want. Gov. Mark Dayton promised to sign it in time for Internet registrations to continue.
Three Republicans joined Democrats in favoring the Sieben bill.
Ritchie launched online registration Sept. 26, and lawmakers from both parties immediately said he did not have the legal authority. A district court judge agreed with that Monday and ordered Ritchie to take down the site at midnight Tuesday.
Senators who spoke Tuesday said they support online registration, but Republicans wanted to make sure it was safe.
Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, said that just an average of 13 voters a day use the Ritchie site the judge ruled was illegal. Republicans said that with so few using the site, it makes sense to increase security, even if the system is not available for the few days it would take House and Senate negotiators to work out details.
The key vote came on an amendment by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, a former secretary of state. Her amendment failed 36-26; it would have increased security the secretary of state would be required to implement in the system and make it illegal for anyone to intercept private data from voters.
“It is just shame that we would knowingly put aside the concerns,” Kiffmeyer said, pointing out that the state recently came under fire for data privacy breaches such as with the MNsure health insurance program and thousands of driver’s licenses being improperly viewed.
“Folks, we want to make sure this is done right, and a few extra days isn’t going to hurt,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
Other than Sieben, Democrats said nothing during the debate while Republicans spoke at length.
Fifteen states already have online voter registration and five others are considering it.
Sieben said the online registration process would be similar to existing paper registration, which remains available. But, she added, online registration would increase accuracy in voter rolls, which could speed up poll lines because poll workers would not have to make as many changes on Election Day.