Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie must immediately shut down the online voter registration system he launched last year because he lacked the authority to create it, a Ramsey County judge decided on Monday.
The decision supports the position of Republican lawmakers who challenged Ritchie's authority to launch the website.
Since the uproar over the system after its creation, the Minnesota Legislature has been moving to create an online registration system. That action weighed in the judge's decision to rule against the DFL Secretary of State.
"If the Legislature believed that the existing on-line voter registration tool was already legally authorized, there would be no need for new legislation," Judge John Guthmann wrote.
Last year, both Democrats and Republicans said that Ritchie, who will step down after this term, may have gone too far by allowing online registration without legislative purview.
The judge's decision breathes new life into long running critiques of the two-term leader of the state's election system. In 2012, Republican lawmakers questioned whether Ritchie used his office to campaign against the amendment to require a photo ID for voting. In another incident, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided Ritchie overstepped his bounds when he tried to write new titles for constitutional amendments.
Judge Guthmann said that Ritchie must shutdown the online registration system by midnight on Tuesday and confirm he has done so by Wednesday.
Importantly for the the thousands of Minnesotans who have registered online since last year, the judge said his order "does not invalidate any on-line voter registration accepted prior to midnight on April 29, 2014."
The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed a measure authorizing online voter registration, similar to the system Ritchie created with extra safeguards, earlier this month.
"There is a real appetite in this place to do it," said Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins. Simon, who is running to replace Ritchie, had said last year the law was unclear as to whether Ritchie had the authority to create the system he did. Monday's decision, he said, "confirms my own instincts, which...are to consult the Legislature when in doubt."
Before the order, the Minnesota Senate had been planning to vote on a legislative plan for online voter registration on Monday.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said, given the decision, the Senate now plans to vote on the online registration measure on Tuesday, sending it to Gov. Mark Dayton for signature.
If Dayton quickly signs it into law as soon as he gets it, Minnesotans may be allowed seamless online registration after Ritchie shuts down his system and the approved system becomes live.
"We are doing it as quickly as we can," Sieben said.