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Minnesota Legislature

Elections panel OKs automatic voter registration

House Photography file photo

House lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a pair of bills that could make it easier for Minnesotans to cast their ballots.

HF45, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth), would automatically register to vote those who are applying for a Minnesota driver’s license, state identification card, or learner’s permit.

Currently, applicants are given the option to opt-in to voter registration on those applications. Under Schultz’s bill that would be reversed — applicants would have the opportunity to check a box to decline registering to vote.

“You’re going to get much higher participation with an opt-out system than an opt-in situation,” Schultz told the House Subcommittee on Elections.

Applicants who don’t decline would be registered to vote once their eligibility is confirmed following a review by the secretary of state’s office. Those already registered to vote would have their information updated in the state’s voter registration database.

Secretary of State Steve Simon testifies before the House Subcommittee on Elections Jan. 30 in support of HF45 sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz, right, to provide automatic voter registration of applicants for a driver’s license. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Secretary of State Steve Simon characterized the change as a minor one and stressed that it wouldn’t allow anyone not currently eligible to vote to register. Proponents of the bill also said it would lead to a reduction in same-day registrations by allowing more voters to register ahead of Election Day.

HF45 was approved and referred to the House Government Operations Committee. A companion, SF612, sponsored by Sen. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

The subcommittee also OK’d a measure that would lift a limit on how many voters a person may assist in marking their ballot.

Voters who need assistance filling out their ballot, whether because they don’t speak English or due to a physical disability, can seek assistance from a person of their choice. Under state law, a person who provides assistance to another individual in marking their ballot may help no more than three voters.

HF94, sponsored by Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center), proposes to throw out that 60-year-old limit.

Simon said the state faces a potential lawsuit over the limit, and noted that Minnesota is one of only two states with such a provision on the books.

“If we don’t repeal this law it may be repealed for us, so to speak, at great cost,” Simon said.

Vang’s bill would not impact other numerical limits in election law, like the number of people a voter can vouch for, or the number of absentee ballots that someone can return on behalf of another.

The bill now heads to the House Government Operations Committee. A companion, SF586, sponsored by Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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