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.
A billboard along a busy interstate proclaimed the state “#1 in voter fraud.” A sitting governor fingered felons for tilting an election. A national pundit blamed fraudulent votes for the passage of national health-care reform. Could this be Minnesota we’re talking about? Once praised as the gold standard for ethics in government and election administration, Minnesota’s voting system is under fire from those who say the state’s election integrity is at stake.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who has long campaigned against the Republican-backed election changes under the GOP’s photo ID proposal, was accused by GOP senators on Friday of crossing the line between running elections and trying to influence them. A Senate committee hearing, led by Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, who is also a candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District, focused on Ritchie’s criticism of a photo ID constitutional amendment and his decision to rewrite the title voters will see on the November ballot. Parry, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville; Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Baxter; and Sen.John Carlson, R-Bemidji, led the charge at the State Government Innovation Veterans Committee in criticizing the DFL Secretary of State. Neither Ritchie nor Attorney General Lori Swanson appeared before the hearing. The Republican-controlled Legislature voted this year to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would require in-person voters to show a photo ID, would set up a new system of two-step provisional voting for those without “government-issued” IDs, and would change eligibility and identity verification standards. No DFLers voted for the bill, and the two sides have bitterly contested the effect of the amendment, should it pass.
A coalition of groups led by the ACLU and the League of Women Voters made arguments in Minnesota’s Supreme Court yesterday against a ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution to “require all voters to present valid photographic identification to vote.” The plaintiffs argue that the measure’s language obscures how the constitution would be changed. “Valid photographic identification” would only include those that were government-issued, and not other forms of ID, such as those issued by schools. Minnesota remains one of only seven states that does not use a provisional ballot system. This measure would institute provisional voting, but lawyers argue that the measure is misleading because it makes no mentione of the significant change to the way votes are counted when using provisional ballots. The measure, which will be decided by voters in November if the state’s high court allows it, also requires “the state to provide free identification to eligible voters.” Yet those IDs wouldn’t exactly be free—at minimum, taxpayers would foot the bill, as would voters who would first need to obtain a $26 birth certificate and travel up to 100 miles to a Department of Vehicle Services office to apply for their ID.
Editorials: Walking a fine line on voter ID issue – the Minnesota Secretary of State and the voter ID amendment | StarTribune.com
The much-debated voter ID amendment is a potential minefield for Minnesota’s top elections official. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s opposition to the proposed changes in election law has been well-known for years. Yet now that the Legislature has put the issue on the ballot for voters, his office must be sure that the referendum is carried out fairly and impartially. Some supporters of the amendment contend that Ritchie already has failed that test. The Minnesota Majority, a citizen’s group, says it is considering filing a complaint against the secretary with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Amendment supporters raise legitimate questions. Ritchie and his staff are the go-to government officials for information on voting practices, and now a major elections change is on a ballot they must administer. Despite the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s opposition to the amendment, it is the board’s hope that Ritchie’s office will strive to remain as neutral as possible between now and the election.
The “Show Me State” of Missouri has a lot to show Minnesota about the travails of trying to require voters to show a photo ID before casting ballots. Short version: It won’t be easy. Six years after the law first passed in Missouri, the state’s voter-friendly courts have kept photo ID and related election-law changes off the books and even off the ballot. Minnesota advocates on both sides have taken notice. “It does show a path to success,” said Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota, which opposes the election law changes and hopes to duplicate Missouri’s record of blocking them in court. “The Missouri legislature really screwed up,” responds Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, which supports the photo ID requirements. “The Minnesota Legislature didn’t make the same mistake.”
Many Minnesotans have been deciding whether they are for or against the Voter ID amendment when they head to the polls in November — but a new lawsuit over the language in the amendment may take the question off the ballot. Several local organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters Minnesota — came forward on Wednesday with a lawsuit that says the language is misleading and inaccurate. They hope the Minnesota Supreme Court will intercede. The exact wording reads as follows: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”
With Minnesota legislators appearing nearly certain to send a photo ID constitutional amendment to voters, some political groups are already vowing to take legal action to prevent it from even reaching the November ballot. The measure was headed for a likely Senate floor vote Friday night, with a friendly Republican majority, after earlier passing the House. Mike Dean, executive director of the liberal group Common Cause of Minnesota, said his organization has been working with state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters to coordinate efforts on a lawsuit that goes after the ballot question’s wording. “The language being provided to voters is extremely confusing and it’s unclear what it really means,” Dean said.
Minnesota voters are steps away from seeing a photo identification constitutional amendment on the ballot. The full Senate passed the amendment Friday in a 36-30 vote after six hours of debate. The House passed the amendment Tuesday. The vote fell mostly along party lines. Every Republican except Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona voted for the amendment. Every Democrat voted against it. The measure centers around whether voters need to prove who they are when they cast a ballot. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he fears some people are voting illegally and that the proposed constitutional amendment would stop it. “I think we do have voter fraud in the United States and I think we have voter fraud in Minnesota,” said Newman. “It is my belief that when someone votes who should not be voting, it has the effect of neutralizing or canceling the vote of someone who has voted legally.”
Barbara Nyhammer’s decision to sign her daughter’s name to an absentee ballot in 2008 became a cause célèbre in the raging Photo ID debate at the Capitol on Tuesday. Nyhammer, a Christian mental health therapist from Andover who said she has never had “so much as a parking ticket,” was originally charged with three counts of felony voting fraud. She eventually convinced a judge the vote was a mistaken attempt to help her daughter, not a crime. Two charges were dismissed outright, and the judge dismissed the third after Nyhammer paid $200 in court costs. “I am a woman of faith and also a patriot,” Nyhammer, 52, told the judge when her case was resolved last August. “I believe voting is a privilege that men and women fought and died for.” Nyhammer said Tuesday she feels she was a “political football” and that the case was “blown way out of proportion.”