Minnesotans who defeated a proposed photo ID amendment to the state Constitution in 2012 may be following a North Carolina voting rights trial with a certain degree of smugness. They may think that democracy-loving Minnesotans wouldn’t stand for the moves that have landed the North Carolina Legislature in federal court, accused of suppressing the African-American vote.
We’d like to think so, too. But we must note that while North Carolina lawmakers shaved a week off that state’s early voting period, Minnesota does not permit early voting at all — though it does offer “no excuses” absentee voting, which is more administratively complex and prone to voter error than actual early voting. Minnesota also does not allow preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and “out-of-precinct” voting, both of which North Carolina allowed, then dropped in 2013. Minnesota 17-year-olds are allowed to register only if they will be 18 on Election Day.
North Carolina also repealed Election Day registration. That’s a much-used convenience that Minnesota has permitted since 1974. It has served this state well. Yet Election Day registration is still viewed with suspicion — unfounded, we believe — in some Minnesota quarters as a potential source of fraud.
Minnesotans rightfully take pride in their state’s record of comparatively high voter participation. But pride ought not blind Minnesotans to the possibility that this state could do more to encourage voting.
Two promising ideas for making voter registration more convenient have recently surfaced — one locally, one nationally. In Minneapolis, Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey has offered a simple suggestion to remind new renters to register to vote at their new address. He would have the city require landlords to give new tenants voter registration information, including both a paper form that could be mailed to election administrators and advice about how to register to vote online. Landlords would need to dispense a piece of paper — nothing more.
Frey, 33, knows from personal experience that many young adults are renters who move frequently and often don’t have voting at the top of mind as they cope with the other adjustments that new living quarters require. Unless registering to vote is more convenient, he says, those young voters are likely to skip that step — and having done so, they’re less likely to vote at all, especially if they encounter long lines at registration tables on Election Day.
Frey’s idea seems worth pursuing. So does a move by the New Jersey Legislature to make voter registration automatic when a citizen obtains a driver’s license, as Oregon already has done. That proposal hangs under a veto threat by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose presidential candidacy assures wide notice for Christie’s decision. We hope that notice extends to Minnesota, where Secretary of State Steve Simon favors amending an existing “motor voter” law to make registration an “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” option.
A U.S. Census Bureau survey reported last week by the Washington Post found that the most common reason nonvoters cited for staying away from the polls in 2014 was “I’m too busy.” That response is an indictment of voting procedures that strike many voters as time-consuming, inconvenient and complicated. It tells us that even in high-turnout Minnesota, democracy’s stewards should seek new ways to make voting a more inclusive exercise.