After meeting with Republican critics on Thursday, DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that he will not "take a step backward" on online voter registration.

"To your request that we take this service away from citizens, we cannot agree," Ritchie wrote to Republican lawmakers.

Last month, Ritchie launched on website that allows Minnesotans to register to vote online.

Since then, Republicans, key Democrats, the state's non-partisan legal staff and legislative auditor have raised questions about why he did it without specific legislative enabling language. He has said he had the authority without lawmakers' sign off thanks to existing Minnesota law.

On Thursday, Ritchie met with Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, and Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, to talk through some of their concerns.

"There are questions that need to be answered," Hann said afterwards, stressing the need for assurance that the system is secure. He and the other lawmakers said they did not oppose the idea of online registration but wanted to see it done right.

The lawmakers left with the impression that Ritchie would share the internal legal analysis he had done that gave him the assurance that he could create the system without instruction to do so from the Legislature. Ritchie's office has declined to release that analysis thus far and told the Star Tribune that he would not waive attorney-client privilege to release it.  On Thursday, Nathan Bowie, Ritchie's spokesman, said that the office continues to maintain it would not release the analysis.

The analysis is key because bipartisan and nonpartisan experts have said the system should be vetted through the Legislature.

This week, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he agreed with Ritchie's intent but that the system "should get legislative support."

The issue of online registration was not brought up during this year's legislative session as a bipartisan crew of lawmakers examined -- and ultimately passed -- a series of changes to Minnesota's voting law.

Newman, the Republican Senate lead on election issues, said on Thursday that when he read about the new system last moth: "the first question that went through my mind was where does he get the legal authority to spend tax payer money to create the system and implement the system."

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in 2012

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in 2012


The Republicans also raised the specter of a legal challenge to the online registration system, which could cause trouble in the upcoming local elections if voters registered online and then the online system was found to be invalid.

So far, no one has sued over online registration, although cash-strapped Minnesota Majority on Thursday sent out an email fundraiser asking for donations to fund a potential lawsuit.

Ritchie's letter to lawmakers, after the meeting:

Letter to Republican Leader Hann, Senator Newman and Rep Sanders_10.24 by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

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