ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Before a court order can kick in, Minnesota lawmakers moved Tuesday to preserve an online voter registration system overseen by the secretary of state.
The Senate approved a bill authorizing the new registration system on a 41-24 vote, sending the measure already passed by the House to Gov. Mark Dayton. The Democrat signed the bill, which will take effect Wednesday.
On Monday, a Ramsey County judge ruled Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had overstepped his bounds by establishing the virtual sign-up unilaterally last fall. The judge ordered that the system be shut down by midnight Tuesday, absent legislative intervention.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said lawmakers should be working to ease the process of voting through new technology.
“Voters across Minnesota want the convenience of being to register online,” she said.
Republicans said they supported the concept of online registration, but most voted against the bill. They argued there weren’t enough accountability measures to assure bogus registrations don’t get through or security safeguards to protect sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license data. They tried repeatedly to add in extra layers of data protection and access limits, but each attempt failed on party-line votes.
Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, said an unwillingness to modify the bill for the sake of speediness was a bad sign.
“We should not be going down partisan roads on election bills,” Senjem said. Alluding to close elections that spilled into recounts, Senjem said the state doesn’t need “more controversy about the integrity of elections.”
People using the system must present verifiable identification data, such as a driver’s license or Social Security number, in addition to birthdates and addresses; applications are checked in a similar fashion as before. Advocates say there are fewer avenues for errors because administrators don’t have to input voter information into a database.
Ritchie, a Democrat, drew GOP criticism and was sued by launching the Internet registration in September. He argued at the time that he was empowered by a Minnesota law allowing electronic alternatives to paper forms when conducting government businesses.
But Judge John Guthmann disagreed in his ruling and said Ritchie should have gone through the Legislature first. Guthmann said the more than 3,600 registrations made through the site already would remain valid.
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