Whether it’s the Women’s March, record voter turnout, or an increase in people considering a run for office, it’s clear more Minnesotans want their voices to be heard. The Senate DFL is committed to expanding voter access to the polls and making it less burdensome for citizens to participate in local democracy.
Unfortunately, it appears Republicans’ goals are the exact opposite: their 2020 priorities feature another attempt to suppress voter access by attempting to require voter ID at the polls. This is a failed proposal (defeated by constitutional amendment in 2012) and a cynical attempt to limit the number of Minnesotans who vote. Through paper ballots, comprehensive election audits, and voter eligibility verification by county election officials and the Secretary of State’s Office, Minnesota’s election systems remain trustworthy and verifiable.
The Senate DFL caucus is committed to expanding – rather than suppressing – voter access and will continue to advocate for policies that make it more convenient and less onerous to vote. Expanding mail-in and absentee balloting (especially for people with disabilities and rural communities), extending early voting periods, and allowing voter pre-registration for 16-year-olds are some of the reforms that will ensure Minnesota continues to have the highest voter turnout in the nation.
Automatic Voter Registration
Another proposal supported by the Senate DFL to encourage more people to vote is automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration is a proposal that was passed by the House DFL majority last session that did not receive a hearing in the Senate. In most states, automatic voter registration is tied to applications for driver’s licenses, state identification cards, and learner’s permits (also known as motor voter legislation). Proposed legislation requires the commissioner of public safety to forward license applicants’ relevant voter registration data to the secretary of state to register eligible voters and update registered voters’ data.
Rep. Schultz and Sen. Laine authored companion legislation last session to implement automatic voter registration through this process, which essentially converts voter registration from an opt-in to an opt-out process at the DMV. Automatic voter registration can also be tied to applications for government services through other state agencies. The secretary of state is responsible for verifying voter ineligibility from the data provided by the DMV, which is classified as private, and ineligible people would not be registered.
- Minnesotans have already rejected Voter ID restrictions with the failure of the 2012 constitutional amendment. Why do Republicans want to overrule the will of MN voters?
- Voter ID restrictions in other states have led to costly lawsuits and wasted countless taxpayer dollars with the sole purpose of limiting access to the polls. Many legal challenges have been predicated on the fact that Voter ID discriminates against minorities and traditionally disenfranchised communities
- These laws are passed under the guise of eliminating voter fraud but in practice have deprived countless people of their right to vote
Federal Election Security Funding
Election security and vulnerability is real: In the 2016 election cycle, Minnesota was one of 21 states targeted by foreign interference. The Department of Homeland Security continues to warn states that the threats to election security are growing as we approach the 2020 election.
A significantly positive aspect of the 2019 session included the belated approval of $6.6 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds that were withheld from the Secretary of State by the Republican Senate since 2018. These funds are currently being used to update the Statewide Voter Registration System, improve post-election auditing, secure the transfer of voter data, improve website accessibility, train election officials, and upgrade cybersecurity systems.
Congress has approved additional funding for election security, with Minnesota set to receive $7.4 million. These funds are intended to assist counties—which directly administer the state’s elections—with software improvements, auditing, and training. The state match is 20% of the total appropriation for this round of grants, which will total $1.48 million. It remains to be seen whether Senate Republicans are willing to release these funds immediately so they can be used by county election officials across the state to secure the 2020 Presidential Election from foreign interference. However, a renewed Senate Republican push for Voter ID restrictions may be needlessly tied to these important election security funds.
- Senate DFLers support the immediate authorization of $7.4 million to the Secretary of State for election security as soon as it is made available to Minnesota
- Federal election security funding for local officials shouldn’t be held up by Republicans for political purposes, especially partisan attempts to reduce voter turnout through onerous Voter ID requirements
- DFLers and Republicans may disagree on many issues but securing Minnesota’s elections from foreign interference should not be one of them
Presidential Primary Data Privacy
Last session, the party ballot selection data to be collected in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Nomination Primary Election on March 3rd was classified as not public but still allows the major political parties to access the list of voters who voted in the primary and which ballot they selected. The law requires the Secretary of State to submit a list of voters who voted in the presidential nomination primary to each major political party, which includes the DFL, Republican, Legal Marijuana Now, and Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Parties. This data will allow the parties to know which party ballot all voters selected but not which specific candidate they voted for.
Privacy concerns have been voiced regarding the presidential nominating primary, especially since early voting began January 17. Potential voters are concerned that their party ballot preference data could be used to discredit their professional objectivity or could be publicly released by another political party. While parties collected data from caucus participants in the past, the potential for higher participation in the primary and the fact that all parties receive all the data has resulted in added scrutiny to the new presidential nominating primary.
Senator Rest intends to author legislation supported by Secretary of State Steve Simon to further restrict access to the ballot selection list and only transfer the data to the national party or a designee to meet party primary requirements. DFL Chair Ken Martin has publicly supported this proposal and indicated the state DFL does not need the data for anything other than to satisfy national party rules. Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Carnihan publicly rejected this proposal in a January 29 press conference, arguing the current presidential primary process should go on as agreed upon. She claimed the DFL is attempting to dissuade voters from participating in the presidential primary by sowing fear in voters.
Nevertheless, the Secretary of State has fielded numerous concerns from potential voters that are worried about how their voting data will be used by the parties. Chair Martin has since pledged that the DFL will not distribute the ballot selection data collected in the upcoming presidential nominating primary to any outside entities. A legislative fix early this session is unlikely due to resistance from the state Republican party and Senate State Government Chair Mary Kiffmeyer.