Republicans claim Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a DFLer, overstepped his authority in creating the registration program.
A group of Republican lawmakers and two interest groups who pushed for voter ID now are going to court to stop a state website that allows voters to register online
In a lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court on Monday, the group contends that DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie overstepped his authority when he launched the website in September. More than 2,000 Minnesotans have submitted voter registration applications since then.
Dan McGrath, president of Minnesota Majority, said Monday that the lawsuit will not immediately affect anyone who used the system to register for Tuesday’s local elections. But, he said, it could be used to challenge the results of those elections, particularly in close races. The suit seeks action by mid-December. If a court found that Ritchie lacked the authority to start the website, the group could ask that votes cast by those who registered online be disqualified.
More than 80 city and school board races are being held across the state on Tuesday, including mayoral contests in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“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.” McGrath said. McGrath and his group led the failed effort in 2012 for a constitutional amendment that would have required voters to show approved photo ID before casting ballots.
Reps. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, Jim Newberger of Becker, Ernie Leidiger of Mayer and Mary Franson of Alexandria are plaintiffs, along with Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Voters Alliance. They are represented by attorney Erick Kaardal, who frequently sues governments on a variety of issues. His fees are being paid by the two interest organizations, McGrath 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.”
Ritchie has said he was authorized to create the system because of a 2000 law that requires the state to accept electronic signatures, just as it does those on paper. Republican lawmakers asked Ritchie to take down the system in October, but he declined.
In a statement released Monday, Ritchie’s office said that the secretary of state was “on firm legal ground providing eligible voters with common sense tools based on Minnesota law.”
“Thousands have already benefited from these tools and we look forward to continuing to serve our citizens with the most efficient government possible.” the office said
McGrath and the lawmakers don’t necessarily oppose online voter registration, just the way it was done.
“Online registration could be the best thing since sliced bread; it could be the worst thing since the plague. We don’t know,” Drazkowski said. “At this point, it simply doesn’t matter. The Minnesota Legislature did not take public testimony to discuss online voter legislation.”
Drazkowski cited a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling from last year that said 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 expected to sign on, but withdrew, McGrath said.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, didn’t explicitly support the lawsuit, but in a statement called Ritchie’s implementation an “illegal and unilateral action.”
Preregistration for Tuesday’s election has already ended, so unregistered voters who wish to vote must do so 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.”