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Path Breaking Voter Registration Modernization Bill is Vetoed by Minnesota Governor Pawlenty

Minnesota legislators passed a landmark voter registration modernization bill recently that would, absent a veto, have registered or updated the registration of voters automatically when they applied for a driver's license, learner's permit or ID card.  It would also use information in motor vehicle and corrections databases to verify and maintain voter rolls.  This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon and Sen. John Marty, would have made Minnesota the first state in the nation to proactively register voters, and made it among the most advanced in maintaining clean, accurate voter rolls.  The bill was designed to build on the state's already first-in-the-nation portability bill, which requires automatic updates to voter registrations based on changes of address.

However, Governor Pawlenty vetoed this historic legislation last week, citing his belief that "registering the [sic] vote should be a voluntary, intentional act."  His two sentence veto message was a pretty sad fig leaf on his basically saying "no thanks" to any more Minnesotans at the polls.  The governor didn't stop there when it came to saying no to model practices in election administration.  He also vetoed the two other pieces of election legislation that were sent to his desk.

Felon Re-enfranchisement:  S 763 by Sen. Mee Moua and Rep. Bobby Champion, would have put in place some very basic notice requirements on correctional facilities and probation officers related to informing people under their control when they have their civil rights restored.  The governor offered another myopic take on fundamental rights when he wrote that "citizens should bear some responsibility for being informed about their own situations and rights," again arguing that barriers to voting are good for Minnesota.

Omnibus Legislation:  This legislative session Minnesota conducted a statewide election recount to determine the winner of its US Senate race under intense scrutiny.  Partly in response to lessons learned from that experience and also addressing some long-recognized shortcomings, the legislature passed S 1331, by Sen. Katie Sieben and Rep. Ryan Winkler, to:

  • Consolidate absentee voting at the county level and refine procedures, a longtime goal of overtaxed local elections officials.
  • Move the mailing of absentee ballots to 60 days before an election to help prevent slow delivery from resulting in lost votes.
  • Replace signature matching with a unique identification number to verify voters.
  • Provide an online voter registration look-up feature for voters to confirm their registration through the Sec. of State's website.
  • Moving the state primary from September to August.

In his typically casual way of disposing with important legislation the governor vetoed the bill because it lacked bipartisan support, and he prefers the primary date to remain in September.  No mention was made of the many other important provisions listed above.

Sec. of State Mark Ritchie, the prime mover on Minnesota elections policy, believes his state "can and must always strive to make [its election system] more secure and cost-effective,” continuously improving what is widely considered to be the best election system in the nation.  Rep. Simon, who shepherded the voter registration bill through the legislature, and many of his colleagues have been consistently working to "make voting as easy and accessible as possible."  While the governor can delay their ability to do so with his vetoes, their record of accomplishment suggests that they will continue to make the case for common sense improvements, which will be adopted sooner or later.

Resources:
Minnesota Voter Registration Modernization Bill

Brennan Center for Justice - Voter Registration Modernization
Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights - Voter Registration Modernization
Progressive States Network - Voter Registration Modernization