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Minnesota Senate GOP elections bill would add restrictions to same-day voter registration

While the GOP's proposal would add voting restrictions, Democrats are seeking to make it easier for people to vote.

Minnesota lawmakers have progressed two largely different proposals that would change the state's voting laws.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate advanced legislation Wednesday that has the potential to restrict same-day voting registration, among other changes to the state's election laws. On a 5-3 party-line vote, the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee approved the massive omnibus bill sending it on to the Senate Finance Committee. 

Minnesota allows voters to register to vote or re-register if they've moved since the last time they voted at their polling place on Election Day and then cast their ballot, which is then counted with all the other ballots. 

But the Senate proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, would change that by requiring an unregistered voter (or someone who has to register at a new address) to cast a provisional ballot that would be set aside for a week until election officials verify their eligibility before it's counted.

What's more, each of these provisional ballots could have their authenticity challenged. In the event this happens, the voter would have to show up in person to prove they're authorized to vote. 

The bill would also end the practice where a registered voter can vouch for an unregistered voter at the polling place under oath, and prohibit cities from using ranked-choice voting for local offices, something the City of Minneapolis and other municipalities currently use and others are considering.

In a statement after the Wednesday vote, Kiffmeyer said that the changes would help maintain "the extremely important integrity of our elections," despite there being little evidence of fraud in the most recent general elections.

Minnesota is one of three states that is exempt from a federal law that requires provisional ballots because it offers same-day voter registration. While Republicans feel the proposal would restore confidence in the state's elections, Democrats say it is attacking a problem that doesn't exist, implying there are problems with Minnesota's elections that need fixing, and would restrict voting because it would add additional hurdles for voters. 

"It would mean if you show up to register on Election Day, you're not really registering to vote. You're registering to put your ballot in a 'maybe pile' — maybe it will be counted, maybe it won't. We've never had that since statehood," Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, told KARE 11

In a tweet Thursday, Simon said the Senate's election proposal "would take us backwards."

"It would severely limit Election Day registration — a popular and effective law since 1974, used by hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans every election. Why cripple a feature that helps make MN #1 in the U.S. in voting?" he tweeted. 

Minnesota is one of 21 states that allow people to register and cast a ballot on the same day. Last year, 259,742 people (7.89% of voters) registered to vote on Election Day amid a year when a record number of people voted absentee. In 2016, 353,179 Minnesotans (11.9% of voters) registered and voted on Election Day, data show.

Republicans in Minnesota, as well as elsewhere in the U.S., are pushing for more restrictions in election laws, citing concerns following the 2020 presidential election and unproven claims from former President Donald Trump that there was widespread voter fraud.

"It's what we must do to make sure everybody trusts and believes only eligible voters cast ballots," state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, said, according to FOX 9

Kiffmeyer, who served as Minnesota's Secretary of State between 1999 and 2007, has been among the Republicans adding to the unproven narrative of widespread fraud in the Nov. 3 elections. She has previously raised concerns about voting machines operated by Dominion Voting Systems, which is suing a number of prominent conservatives for pushing baseless allegations of widespread election fraud involving its products.

As the chair of the Senate Elections Committee, Kiffmeyer has previously cited "anecdotal reports of irregular election activity, questions on software, equipment malfunctions," to Simon, who described her claims as "foolish and irresponsible."

The Senate proposal likely will not become law and differs greatly from Democrat's proposal in the House, which would automatically register someone when they apply for a driver's license or state ID (one would be able to opt-out of this) and restore the right to vote for people convicted of a felony after they've been released from prison, according to Session Daily.

The House omnibus state government finance and elections bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, received approval by the House State Government and Finance Committee on an 8-5 party-line vote and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee, the publication notes.

While the omnibus bills in both chambers contain major election law changes and a slew of other proposals related to state government, they also address some technical election law changes that have — or could have — bipartisan support. 

The Star Tribune notes Simon is optimistic lawmakers can agree on the more technical changes and get those into law, such as giving election workers two weeks to count early ballots received before Election Day (current law gives them seven days).

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