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DFL’s proposed election-law changes unlikely without bipartisan support

Efforts to approve no-excuse absentee balloting and early voting failed to gain any GOP support this week in a Senate committee.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt is counting on Gov. Dayton's pledge to veto voting reforms that lack bipartisan support.
MinnPost file photo by James Nord

This may not be the legislative session for substantial election law changes.

Senate Democrats moved on an omnibus elections bill in committee this week without any Republican votes, even though Gov. Mark Dayton has maintained his pledge that election legislation must garner broad bipartisan support to secure his signature.

It’s unclear how Democrats expect the measure to gain Republican backing going forward.

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“It gives us a little bit of power, too — almost like a veto,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said on Friday. “If we don’t put any Republican votes up, he’s pledged to veto that stuff.”

The bill contains certain provisions — including early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting — that Republicans say would serve to expand voter access without addressing election integrity, which they say is their main legislative concern related to elections.

“It passed on a party line vote, and we’re hopeful that throughout the remainder of working the bill, we’ll gain Republican support for an overall package,” Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee, said after Wednesday’s vote.

But Sieben couldn’t point to specific policies DFLers might tack on during negotiations with Republican to secure their votes for the measure, which has at least one more committee stop.

Katie Sieben
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben couldn’t point to any specific policies that DFLers would accept that might win GOP support for voting reforms.

Sieben also said the governor hasn’t indicated exactly how broad the bipartisan support must be for him to sign the legislation.

The GOP pushed a constitutional amendment last session that would have required a photo ID to cast a ballot and changed Minnesota’s election system. Dayton vetoed a statutory Photo ID bill in 2011 because it passed along party lines, which prompted Republicans to bypass the governor and go right to the voters.

That partisan-backed ballot question, however, failed in the November elections.

It’s been clear since the first hearings last month that Senate Republicans don’t support early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting.

“The sad thing is, neither of them increase the integrity of the election,” Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state who sponsored last session’s voting amendment when she was in the House, said last month after the first hearing.

“You need to have integrity with these things, and if you haven’t addressed that, you’re just not going to get our support,” she said of courting Republican votes. “So, if you want to keep playing that old game of just putting things forward that don’t take into any consideration those things, then you’re not going to get the support.”

Kiffmeyer, one of the Republicans on the committee who voted against the overall election package, said Wednesday that there are so many problems with the bill it’s difficult to enumerate them all.

She also criticized the lack of a fiscal note for any of the proposals, which Democrats sought when Kiffmeyer brought the voting amendment forward last session.

Several Republicans discussed what it would require for them to support the proposal, Kiffmeyer said, noting that Democrats didn’t approach them privately with the package before Wednesday’s hearing.

“Consensus is mainly around [the question of] what would be big enough to swallow this great big horse pill — and it’d have to be something really, really big.”

If you guessed Photo ID might be the sugar to make the DFL medicine go down, you were right.

“That would be really, really big,” she said. “That would be a big draw.”

Senate Minority Leader David Hann said his members are concerned about the integrity issue, which is affecting their support for the overall proposal.

But Sieben and Rep. Steve Simon, chairman of the House Elections Committee, both said Photo ID is unlikely to happen.

Rep. Steve Simon
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Rep. Steve Simon doesn’t expect any new Voter ID laws during the session.

“At this point, I cannot imagine a circumstance where Democrats would go for that,” Simon said. “I’m talking about Democrats writ large. I’m talking about our caucus.”

Simon, who is still working to craft the House elections package, said that proposal would appear in the next few weeks. He isn’t sure exactly what it will look like yet.

The DFLer from Hopkins is also taking a different tack than his Senate counterpart by crafting both an omnibus proposal and passing each measure out of committee individually.

The House Elections Committee already has heard a no-excuse absentee voting bill and a straightforward early-voting measure has been introduced. Simon is optimistic that Democrats will move forward on some proposals.

“I subscribe to the Phyllis Kahn theory of legislating, which … is the best thing is to have your bills alive in as many places as possible,” he said.

Sieben said Senate Democrats added a plan to move the state primary election from August to June because House Republicans are interested in the measure, but it didn’t produce any Republican support.

“I think it’s not a secret that in the end there’s going to have to be some bargaining going on,” Simon added. “I mean, that’s pretty obvious, so we’ll see what happens on that front.”