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Lawsuit challenges state’s online voter registration system

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature, National campaigns, Democrats Updated: November 4, 2013 - 12:14 PM

Four Republican state representatives and two conservative groups announced a lawsuit on Monday against Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, alleging he overstepped his power in launching the state’s online voter registration website in September.

The petition, which will be filed in Ramsey County District Court, demands the website be suspended until it can be “openly and publicly vetted” by the Minnesota State Legislature, Dan McGrath,  Minnesota Majority president said at a news conference.

McGrath and the lawmakers said they were not against online voter registration—only that it should not have been single-handedly implemented by Ritchie.

“Online registration could be the best thing since sliced bread; it could be the worst thing since the plague. We don’t know,” Said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who is listed as one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit. “At this point it simply doesn’t matter. The Minnesota Legislature did not take public testimony to discuss online voter legislation.”

The suit asks for a court hearing on the issue on or before Dec. 15. Other plaintiffs include Representatives Jim Newberger, R-Becker; Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer; and Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, along with Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Voters Alliance. They are represented by Attorney Erick Kaardal. Attorney’s fees are being paid by the organizations, McGrath said.

McGrath said the lawsuit would not affect voters who used the online system to register for Tuesday's local elections. However, it could be cause for challenging election results, particularly in close races.

"The voters themselves will likely see no effect, but the elections could be challenged because unauthorized voters cast ballots when they weren't legally registered." he said.

Kaardal said he currently represents public watchdog groups in the Woodbury and Pelican Rapids school districts. If the elections are close, he said, "we would certainly be looking at the registration procedures."
The DFL Secretary of State said his office had the authority to create the system because of  a 2000 law that requires state acceptance of electronic signatures as the equivalent of those on paper. Republican lawmakers asked him to take the system down in October, but declined to do so.

In a statement, Ritchie’s office said that although he wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, the Office was confident they were “on firm legal ground providing eligible voters with common sense tools base on Minnesota law.”
“Thousands have already benefited from these tools and we look forward to continuing to serve our citizens wit the most efficient government possible.” the statement said.

Drazkowski cited a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling from last year that Ritchie overstepped his bounds when he tried to write new titles for proposed constitutional amendments up for vote, including an amendment to require a photo ID for voting.

The lawsuit names no members of the Minnesota Senate as plaintiffs. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was anticipated to be listed as a plaintiff, but asked to be withdrawn due to a conflict, “where he couldn’t do it right now,” McGrath said.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, didn’t explicitly express support for it, but called Ritchie’s implementation an “illegal and unilateral action.”

“Republicans have stated since the beginning of this new program, we don’t believe that we should have to sue for Secretary Mark Ritchie to follow the law.” he said.

Pre-registration for Tuesday's election has already ended, as the website makes clear, so unregistered voters who wish to vote will have to do register at their polling places.

Democrats and Republicans have said they plan to work on legislation next year to authorize online voter registration.

In response to the lawsuit, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins and the chair of the House Elections Committee, said: "Instead of filing a lawsuit, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle should work together to make it a permanent option available to all eligible Minnesota voters."

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