A Ramsey County District Court clock has been ticking since mid-December on a lawsuit filed by a handful of Republican officials challenging DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s authority to institute online voter registration, which he did in September. The Legislature ought to beat Judge John Guthmann to the punch. Soon after they reconvene on Feb. 25, legislators ought to give Ritchie the legal green light he may or may not have had last fall. Voters, election administrators and taxpayers benefit from the convenience, accuracy and cost-saving efficiency of online registration. Ritchie, who plans to leave office at the end of this year, maintains that he has always had the law on his side. He cites a law enacted in 2000 allowing government agencies to switch to electronic records and to allow for electronic signatures on forms and documents. His application of that law to voter registration caught legislators by surprise and was met with bipartisan skepticism and the lawsuit.
But, to their credit, Republican legislators are signaling an ability to parse their doubt about Ritchie’s action last fall from the need for a robust online voter registration system going forward.
“We don’t have any problem with people being able to register online,” Rep. Tim Sanders, the lead minority Republican on the House Elections Committee, said last week. “Our concern is security. We want to see if there’s a way to verify the information that’s provided … We’ll come to the table with ideas.” He said enactment of a bipartisan online registration bill this year is “very possible.”