Opponents of a state website for online voter registration called its implementation the equivalent of stealing from taxpayers in a spirited court hearing Friday over a legal challenge to the system. The state countered that it has the legal authority to create a system that is likely to save money.

Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann, who peppered arguments with several questions and comments of his own, did not say when he would issue a ruling. He has 90 days to decide.

Meantime, opponents to the website said they don’t intend to challenge the validity of registration by 2,500 voters who have used it.

The hearing followed a lawsuit filed last month by a group of legislators and the interest groups Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Voters Alliance asking that the website be shut down. They contend that DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie overstepped his authority when he launched it in September.

Along with the interest groups, Reps. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Jim Newberger of Becker, Ernie Leidiger of Mayer and Mary Franson of Alexandria are plaintiffs.

Attorney Erick Kaardal argued that his clients aren’t opposed to online voter registration, only how it was implemented. He accused Ritchie of breaking the law by spending taxpayer money without approval from the Legislature.

“It’s a felony; it’s embezzlement,” Kaardal said. “Whatever it is, it’s wrong to use state money for your own private purpose.”

Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Alethea Huyser, however, defended the system, arguing that it’s legal under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) passed in 2000, which authorized the use of electronic records and signatures instead of paper.

Pointing out that online voter registration is likely to save taxpayer money, Huyser said the challenge to online registration is based on principle, not illegal spending. “It’s sort of evident that their objection is with the policy, not that system.”

Kaardal countered that Minnesota election law mandates that a voter registration application must be submitted “in person or by mail” and that the Legislature did not expressly point out how voter registration laws would change under the UETA.

Judge Guthmann asked Kaardal the point of a uniform act if it must individually amend every law to which it applies.

“Why not just say, ‘This applies to everything.’ Isn’t everything everything?” Guthmann asked. “Why list 5,000 laws and include the exceptions?”