Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie launched an online voter registration system last month with little fanfare, but now the state’s legislative auditor is underscoring lawmakers’ questions about whether he had any authority to do so. Ritchie created the system without explicit permission from the Legislature. A nonpartisan analysis, which Legislative Auditor James Nobles highlighted on Thursday, said the secretary of state could have followed the lead of top election officials in other states and asked for lawmakers’ approval before creating the online system. “We wouldn’t have the controversy if he had,” Nobles said. The wrangling over the online registration system is the latest clash between the DFL secretary of state and the GOP. Last year, Republican lawmakers questioned whether Ritchie used his office to campaign against the amendment to require a photo ID for voting. In another incident, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided Ritchie overstepped his bounds when he tried to write new titles for constitutional amendments.
Ritchie has said his office drew the authority to create the online registration system from a 2000 law that requires state acceptance of electronic signatures as the equivalent of scribbles on paper.
“I wasn’t in office, I wasn’t around. But that’s what the Legislature decided,” Ritchie said this week.
The new online system follows the same registration requirements as have long been used with paper registration; it just makes the forms available online, his office said.
Further, Ritchie said, “prior to my becoming secretary of state we began moving voter registrations around electronically, so this has been going on for quite awhile.”