The Senate passed a wide-ranging elections bill 39-28 on a mostly party line vote that would expand early voting and restore voting rights to felons once they are no longer incarcerated.
The bill would automatically register eligible voters when they apply for a driver's license or state identification card or have it renewed. It would also allow 16- and 17-year olds to "preregister" to vote. A driver's license applicant could opt-out of registering to vote.
Felons would have their voting rights restored as soon as they serve their sentence, rather than after leaving state supervised probation or parole, if the bill becomes law.
Advocates, including some law enforcement officials, say felons should be assimilated back into the community quickly to prevent recidivism. Opponents of the felon voting measure say by committing crimes the felons should suffer consequences and forfeit their rights.
The bill would also establish an early voting program, allowing Minnesotans to vote beginning 15 days prior to Election Day through 5 p.m. on the third day before Election Day.
The bill fulfills several of the policy preferences of DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon, who oversees the state's elections.
Nationwide, Democrats have had success in states with early voting, using robust get-out-the-vote operations to ramp up their at-times hard-to-reach base. Early voting gives organizers more time to reach those voters.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said that he would only sign major changes to elections law if the proposals have bipartisan support. Several of the provisions in the Senate bill, including early voting, would struggle to find majority support in the Republican-controlled House.