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Minnesota should ‘step up’ to auto voter registration, DFLer says

Sam Oliker-Friedland, chief counsel for the Campaign for Secure and Modern Elections, testifies before the House Subcommittee on Elections March 4 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Kristin Bahner, left, to establish a system of automatic voter registration. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL-Maple Grove) says the process of registering to vote should be easier and more efficient.

So she sponsors HF1328, a bill that marks the DFL’s latest effort to automatically register Minnesotans who are eligible to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or state-issued ID.

Approved, as amended, Wednesday on a 5-3 party-line vote by the House Subcommittee on Elections, the bill now goes to the House Government Operations Committee. A companion, SF1189, sponsored by Sen. Matt Little (DFL-Lakeville), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

Bahner called the right to vote “the most fundamental part of democracy.” HF1328 would help make sure everyone who is eligible to vote can cast their ballot, she said.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have already moved toward automatic voter registration.

Automatic voter registration for driver's license applicants discussed 3/4/20

“It’s time Minnesota steps up and makes that a reality for all Minnesotans,” she said.

The bill would, essentially, make voter registration opt-out rather than opt-in. Unless applicants for a license or ID — those who are confirmed as meeting the citizenship requirement for eligibility to vote — check a box indicating that they do not want to be registered to vote, their information would be transmitted to the secretary of state’s office for verification.

If the individual is verified to be eligible to vote, they would be registered and the secretary of state would provide the appropriate information to the county auditor where the voter lives. Addresses of voters already registered would be automatically updated at the time of their transaction renewing their license or ID with the Department of Public Safety or a deputy registrar.

Bahner’s bill would also authorize individuals age 16 or older to register to vote if they will be 18 by Election Day.

House Republicans continue to oppose automatic voter registration.

They question the expense that driver’s license agents and deputy registrars would face in carrying out the requirements of the bill, including adding a box to license and ID application forms for voters to check if they want to opt out of registering to vote. Republican members also questioned the provision that would allow 16-year-olds to register.

“So many questions,” said Rep. Anne Neu (R-North Branch). “Clearly, this bill isn’t ready for primetime.”

Secretary of State Steve Simon, who expressed support for the bill, has said automatic voter registration wouldn’t allow anyone to register who is not eligible to vote. He also noted it would likely mean a reduction in same-day registrations by allowing more voters to register ahead of Election Day.

“I think it would make the election rolls cleaner, more accurate [and] more trustworthy,” Simon said.


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