Early voting bill advances at legislature

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • March 11, 2009 - 9:27 AM

A bill that would allow Minnesotans to vote as soon as 15 days before Election Day passed its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.

Early voting proponents have pointed to the hopelessly snarled 2008 U.S. Senate election as Exhibit A in their argument that the state's rigid absentee voting rules need to be simplified.

The bill, approved by the House committee that oversees elections, would allow votes to be cast from 15 days before the election until the Friday before it's held. Voting would be held from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays; at least one evening and one Saturday also would be open for early voting.

Currently, Minnesotans can cast absentee ballots only by stating they will be away from their precinct or unable to get there on Election Day.

With one in 10 Minnesotans voting absentee last year, double the number in 2006, election experts say it's likely that a large number of those voters aren't strictly telling the truth.

In addition, because of a complex set of rules governing absentee ballots, 12,000 of them were rejected in the Senate race -- a number that has become the linchpin in deciding the race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

Early voting, which is permitted in at least 32 other states, has been endorsed by the League of Women Voters and the citizens lobby, Common Cause.

In the wake of the wreckage of the Senate race, several other proposals to overhaul Minnesota's election laws are in the legislative pipeline.

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