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Swift action needed to save same-day registration

This kind of radical change should not be taken lightly.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

The Minnesota Legislature is poised to vote on a proposed Constitutional amendment that would replace same-day voter registration with a new election system called provisional voting. Not only would this new system cost local governments tens of millions in new tax dollars, it would delay the reporting of election results while we all waited for 500,000-600,000 provisional ballots to be processed. Since one-third of all provisional ballots nationwide are never counted, this could reduce our overall vote count by up to 200,000, knocking us out of our position as the state with the highest voter turnout in the nation.

Given that over half-million Minnesotans normally use same-day registration in big election years, this kind of radical change should not be taken lightly.

Currently voters are allowed to update their address or other voter registration information and to cast their ballot in their neighborhood polling place on Election Day. The proposed amendment changes the rules and would not allow you to cast your ballot. Same-day registrants could only cast a provisional ballot that could not be opened or processed until election officials finished processing them in the weeks following the election. Cost estimates for taxpayers who would need to pay for this new parallel election system are estimated to be about $40 million for the set-up and then another $3 million to $5 million each year to operate provisional balloting depending on the number of elections held.

The high cost of creating a brand new system of provisional balloting has triggered strong opposition from many organizations representing local units of government, like the Minnesota Association of Townships. They have testified in opposition to provisional balloting numerous times, objecting to the fact that they would need to raise local property taxes in order to pay for this new bureaucracy. The townships asked the Legislature to cover the costs of this new unfunded mandate, but legislative leaders have refused.

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This proposed amendment also includes a section that would require local election officials to deny the right to vote to anyone who comes into their polling place without a government-issued identification card.  For example, if you’ve lost your wallet and not yet received a duplicate from the Division of Driver and Vehicle Services, you would not be allowed to cast your ballot. If you are one of the over 1,000 older Minnesotans who have been denied a state ID, you will not be allowed to cast your ballot — even if you have been voting in the same polling place since Roosevelt. About 84,000 current Minnesota voters do not have the appropriate IDs and it is not clear how many could ever get one.

If you are denied the right to vote because you don’t have the proper ID, you will be allowed to submit a provisional ballot. Your vote will only be counted if you can return to your courthouse within a few days with a valid ID.

Besides the very high cost to local communities of this new provisional balloting there is also a danger that this will cause a major increase in the workload and costs for our already busy state Supreme Court. Under a Minnesota law any person denied the right to vote can write to the chief justice of the Supreme Court and request their intervention. If one-third of provisional ballots are rejected this could trigger thousands of appeals. 

This attack on Minnesota’s election system is not isolated – the same is happening in other states. In Maine, last year, the state Legislature tried to repeal same-day registration. Fortunately, the citizens of Maine were able to put this issue on the ballot last fall and by an overwhelming majority – 61 percent to 38 percent — Maine voters saved same-day registration.

This is not a strictly partisan debate. For example, former GOP Congressman and Secretary of State Arlen Erdahl has come out against the proposed amendment, as well as former DFL Secretary of State Joan Growe. Both cited the attacks on same-day registration as key to their opposition.

We have a great election system, the best in the nation, and year after year we make it even better.  If you believe that same-day registration is important, you need to act quickly, before legislators make their final decision about this amendment.  Please contact your state representative and senator and ask them to vote no on House File 2738 — the constitutional amendment that would end same-day registration.

Mark Ritchie is Minnesota secretary of state.

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