Judge orders halt to Minnesota's online voter registration system

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A Ramsey County judge has ordered an online voter registration system shut down immediately, ruling that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie did not have the authority to set it up, the Associated Press reports.

Four Republican lawmakers and two conservative activist groups filed suit in November to block the online voter registration system, claiming Ritchie lacked authority from the Legislature to implement it. In Monday's ruling, Judge John Guthmann agreed with the plaintiffs.

He ordered Ritchie to close the system down by midnight Tuesday, but said any registrations made through the site previously would remain valid.

Ritchie set up the online system in September of last year, but critics in both parties questioned at the time whether he had the authority to do so on his own.

One of the plaintiffs in the case is the election watchdog group Minnesota Majority. A spokesman, Dan McGrath, told MPR News he’s pleased with the ruling.

“This is another example of this current secretary of state exceeding his authority, going outside the proper channels, outside the legislative process and trying to run a little dictatorship out of the secretary of state’s office,” McGrath said. “Once again we’ve had to sue and get the court to step in and uphold the rule of law.”

Ritchie, who is not running for re-election after two terms as Secretary of State, has been criticized in the past for taking actions that some believe were overreaching. In 2012, Republican lawmakers questioned whether Ritchie used his office to campaign against the photo ID amendment, by pointing out the additional expenses that could be incurred by local governments to implement it, the Star Tribune reports.

At about the same time, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided Ritchie overstepped his bounds when he tried to rewrite the titles for the photo ID and same-sex marriage constitutional amendments that would appear on voter ballots.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie issued a written statement in response to the court decision:

“While we respectfully disagree with the recent decision by the Ramsey County District Court, we look forward to the Minnesota Legislature making online registration permanent. This tool has already proven its ability to reduce tax payer costs by modernizing the work of local government. Online registration has been embraced by Minnesota voters who appreciate the security and ease of the process.”

Ritchie also provided an update on the number of online registrations, which total 3,631 since September.

The Minnesota Senate is scheduled to take a vote Tuesday on a bill to authorize online voter registration. The House overwhelmingly passed a similar measure earlier in the session.

Despite having more than 700,000 unregistered voters, Minnesota still has the highest voter turnout in the country, CNN reports.

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