Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie must immediately shut down the online voter registration system he launched last year because he lacked the authority to create it, a Ramsey County judge decided Monday. Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann said Ritchie had until midnight on Tuesday to close the system and confirm that he had done so by Wednesday. More than 3,600 Minnesotans have taken advantage of online registration. Guthmann said his order “does not invalidate any online voter registration accepted before midnight on April 29, 2014.” Guthmann said he also was making no determination on whether online registration was a good idea. Instead, he wrote, “sole question presented herein is whether Respondent had the legal authority to do what he did.”
His ruling revives political opponents’ most frequent complaint about Ritchie — that he has a pattern of overstepping his bounds. In 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed, saying the two-term DFL leader of the state’s election system went beyond his power when he tried to write new titles for constitutional amendments. That same year, Republicans said he used his office’s resources to campaign against the amendment requiring voter ID. “In my opinion this is a Secretary of State that has had little respect for the law,” said Dan McGrath, president of Minnesota Majority, one of the groups that sued over the registration issue.
Ritchie, who is not running for re-election, said he disagrees with Guthmann’s ruling, but appreciates that the Legislature has taken up the call to allow Minnesotans to register to vote online. The DFL-led Senate had planned to vote on the matter Monday, but opted to wait a day. “We look forward to the Minnesota Legislature making online registration permanent,” Ritchie said in a statement. “This tool has already proven its ability to reduce taxpayer costs by modernizing the work of local government.”