Nearly 1,500 Minnesotans used Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s new online voter registration system last month, but the program’s legitimacy is under question. Four Republican state legislators and two conservative interest groups filed a lawsuit last Monday against Ritchie, claiming the program was created illegally without legislative input. The registration program, which debuted Sept. 26, allows voters to register or update their information through an online form instead of a paper application. During the site’s initial debut, which lasted about three weeks, the system registered 323 new voters statewide for the 2013 elections, and about 900 Minnesotans used the site to update their information. The plaintiffs are requesting the program end completely and its users re-register before casting a ballot. Until the case is heard, nothing will change for voters who have used the site, according to a report by the Star Tribune. Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, that supports Ritchie’s program, said in a Nov. 1 statement the system “makes the process of registering to vote easier and more streamlined. Republicans are simply being obstructionist in opposing online voter registration … I commend Mark Ritchie for a job well done to move Minnesota’s voting systems into the future,” he said in the statement.
Minnesota Majority executive director John Rouleau, a plaintiff in the case, said Ritchie went beyond his power by creating the system, and it should have gone through the legislative process.
“When we have big changes, like this would be to our elections system, it’s important that it’s done through the Legislature like it’s supposed to be,” Rouleau said.
According to state law, the Secretary of State is required to consult with local election officials while developing the state’s voter registration system.
Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Doug Chapin said the case is a fight for balancing executive and legislative power.
“This could either be a model to follow or a cautionary tale for another state that wants to do it through executive action only,” he said.