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Federal judge denies lawsuit effort to change Minnesota’s voting procedures

The lawsuit would have enacted sweeping changes to Minnesota’s election system, including Election Day voter registration.

Judge Donovan W. Frank

Judge Donovan W. Frank

A federal judge denied a complaint Friday that would have enacted sweeping changes to Minnesota’s election system, including Election Day voter registration.

The high-profile Photo ID and marriage amendment lawsuits, under consideration by the Minnesota Supreme Court, had overshadowed a federal lawsuit brought by conservative groups that sought to tighten procedures used to ensure the eligibility of Election Day registrants.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank denied the motion from the Minnesota Voters Alliance and the Minnesota Freedom Council.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie praised the ruling for ensuring “that these voters, many who will cast votes for the first time, will have their voices heard on Election Day.”

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An attorney for the groups told the Star Tribune that he plans to appeal the decision immediately.

“As a preliminary matter, the Court finds that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against defendants upon which relief may be granted,” Frank wrote in his order, adding that the groups haven’t exhausted avenues available to them under state law.

The defendants in the lawsuit included Ritchie, Attorney General Lori Swanson and elections officials from Ramsey, Crow Wing and Chisago counties.

Ritchie has consistently referred to the federal lawsuit as a threat to Minnesota’s same-day registration, which he said contributes to the state’s nation-leading voter turnout.

But Erick Kaardal, counsel for the conservative groups that brought the complaint forward, argued before Frank in June that elections officials don’t adequately verify Election Day registrants’ eligibility, compared with pre-registrants.

He also said elections officials allow disabled people under guardianship to vote, and said that because of certain mistakes, vote dilution has occurred.

Elections officials have argued that requiring those burdensome checks would be a threat to Minnesota’s voting system.

“The idea that that is a simple process … we submit is absurd,” Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn said in June on behalf of Ritchie and the Secretary of State’s Office.

Frank, in his order, wrote that it is the citizens’ duty to confirm their eligibility.

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“Under Minnesota election statutes, voters themselves certify their eligibility to vote, under threat of criminal prosecution if they do so falsely,” Frank wrote.

He also wrote that simply because a person is under guardianship doesn’t mean they’ve lost their right to vote. A court must specifically take it away.

The order was a victory for opponents who are similarly engaged in a fight against the Photo ID amendment set to appear on the November ballot. That measure also is embroiled in state litigation.

“The federal ruling is a big victory for Minnesota voters,” Luchelle Stevens, campaign manager of the Our Vote Our Future campaign, wrote in a statement. “The same people pushing this lawsuit are the ones working to pass the voter restriction amendment …. They lost in federal court today and they will lose on the ballot because our system works here in Minnesota.”

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on whether the proposed Photo ID ballot question is misleading — a lawsuit brought forward by opponents of the amendment — and if it and the so-called marriage amendments’ titles are misleading.