Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is stepping down in January after two terms in office, leaving behind a more modernized office and a tenure marked by conflict with the Legislature. He wants to let a “new generation of leadership” onto the scene, he said, but he’s not leaving due to a lack of energy. “He gets up really early in the morning and goes, goes, goes, goes,” said Dale Wiehoff, Ritchie’s former colleague and vice president for communications at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “He’s very engaged in whatever conversation he’s in.” Ritchie’s tenure has spanned a period of change and political contention for the secretary of state’s office, which is tasked with overseeing elections and business registration. Because of his initiatives over the past eight years, both voters and businesses can register with the state online.
Articles about voting issues in Minnesota.
Robert Stewart hasn’t been able to vote since 2006, a right he lost because there’s a felony on his record. But for the past several years, the third-year sociology graduate student has been fighting to regain his voting rights. “It’s encouraged me to be involved,” he said, “because I have no other way to be involved in the political process, other than through advocacy.” While a bill to restore voting eligibility to many Minnesotans with criminal records when they leave prison made headway in the last legislative session, the measure failed to make it onto the floor of either chamber. Now, some University of Minnesota students are working to further the rights of those with criminal backgrounds. “I think [people with criminal records] should be welcomed back into the community,” said associate sociology professor Joshua Page. He said he believes the public should strive to integrate former convicts back into society, rather than exclude them.
Minnesota has joined a multistate consortium that will help provide more accurate voter registration officials at the polls. As a new member of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), officials say Minnesota will now compare Minnesota’s voter rolls to Minnesota’s driver’s license database, the Social Security Administration’s death information and other states’ voter rolls. Also in the consortium are the District of Columbia, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
Minnesota: Appeals court strikes down 101-year-old law that makes lying about ballot initiatives a crime | Star Tribune
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 101-year-old law Tuesday that makes it a crime to make false political statements about a ballot question. The court overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, who dismissed the case, and the ruling could have wide implications. “It is a huge victory because ordinary citizens can now support or oppose ballot questions, including school bond levies, without fear of being subjected to expensive litigation regarding their campaign speech,” said Bill Mohrman, a Minneapolis attorney who brought the appeals court case.
Minnesota: Election officials go after voters listing mail centers as addresses | Minneapolis Star Tribune
County election officials across the metro area are scrutinizing dozens of voter registrations tied to commercial mail centers after a probe in Minneapolis revealed a loophole in the state’s election system. A new Star Tribune comparison of voter records and data from the U.S. Postal Service found that 95 voters were registered at the addresses of mail centers — such as UPS Stores — despite requirements that voters list their physical residence.
More than a hundred absentee voters who registered at the address of a mailbox center in Cedar-Riverside will have to re-register under their home addresses — a decision that follows a stir in the Somali community regarding legal voting practices. At an administrative hearing on Thursday, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office announced that the case of 141 improperly registered voters was not an intentional or organized effort, dismissing allegations of voter fraud. The hearing came about two weeks after the attorney’s office was prompted to investigate the incident by a petition filed by a lawyer for Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.
Minnesotans will no longer have to stretch the truth to get an absentee ballot. A new law, approved overwhelmingly last year, will allow voters to request absentee ballots regardless of whether they can get to their polling places on Election Day. The program, coupled with online tools that will let voters register online and check the status of their ballots, is part of a nationwide movement to make voting easier. Minnesota’s law doesn’t go as far as those in some states, where vote-by-mail and early voting have become commonplace, but its supporters say the changes will help the state maintain its best-in-the-nation turnout status. “I think anything that permits more people to vote, as long as they are doing so lawfully, is a boon,” said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. “The more people who will vote, the better off we’ll be.”
Minnesota voters can now request an absentee ballot online at mnvotes.org through a new tool launched by the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. The service allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot quickly and easily without the need to print, scan forms, and return by mail, fax or email. A similar tool for military and overseas voters was introduced in September 2013. Voters may request an absentee ballot for both the August 12 Primary Election and November 4 General Election. Ballots for those elections will be mailed when they become available on June 27 and September 19, respectively.
A Minnesota judge has temporarily blocked a Minnesota campaign contribution law in light of an April ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. United States District Judge Donovan Frank ruled a group of plaintiffs challenging Minnesota’s ban on large-dollar donations from so-called “special sources” has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim,” and ruled Minnesota can’t enforce the law as the case works through the judicial system. The special-sources law limits the amount of money candidates can receive from PACs, lobbyists and “large contributors,” individuals who give more than more than half the base contribution limits for state races (the base limits are $4,000 for a gubernatorial candidate and $1,000 for a House race this cycle). Under the law, gubernatorial candidates can only receive $730,200 from these sources, and state House candidates, $12,500. Once a candidate hits that cap, PAC and lobbyist money is banned and individuals are restricted to giving half the base contribution limit.
Minnesota: Lawmakers move to preserve online voter registration system after judge voided existing portal | Associated Press
Before a court order can kick in, Minnesota lawmakers moved Tuesday to preserve an online voter registration system overseen by the secretary of state. The Senate approved a bill authorizing the new registration system on a 41-24 vote, sending the measure already passed by the House to Gov. Mark Dayton. The Democrat signed the bill, which will take effect Wednesday. On Monday, a Ramsey County judge ruled Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had overstepped his bounds by establishing the virtual sign-up unilaterally last fall. The judge ordered that the system be shut down by midnight Tuesday, absent legislative intervention. Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said lawmakers should be working to ease the process of voting through new technology. ”Voters across Minnesota want the convenience of being to register online,” she said.