Minnesota’s Election Day voter registration challenged in court

While a constitutional amendment to require voters to show photo identification at the polls has dominated headlines these days, a separate court case challenging Minnesota’s same-day voter registration rules was heard in federal court Friday.

In their lawsuit, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, the Minnesota Freedom Council and others argue that the state should determine whether an individual who registers on Election Day is eligible to vote before his or her ballot is counted.

The state has enough information to determine voting eligibility for felons and wards of the state on Election Day, and has a legal duty to do so, said the plaintiffs’ attorney Erick Kaardal in court.

But the state has denied that it must, Kaardal continued.

“There is something deeply, deeply wrong with that,” Kaardal said.

If the court does not rule that election officials must check voter eligibility, the court should require a system that allows the people to challenge the ballots before they’re counted, Kaardal argued.

The state sees things differently. Attorneys representing Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, and county election officials argued Friday that the complaint should be dismissed. They say the type of requirements the plaintiffs want would restrict the rights of eligible voters.

There is nothing in the law that requires the state to determine voter eligibility before counting votes, said Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn.

Further, verifying registration information does not amount to verifying eligibility, Hartshorn said.

The “plaintiffs’ entire suit hinges on their belief that the processes applied to voter

registration applications exist or function to verify voters’ eligibility,” states a brief submitted by the state. “This belief is legally baseless and factually false.”

The state also argued that the the plaintiffs’ case is inappropriate for federal court because the state has not engaged in voter disenfranchisement, said Robert Roche, who represented Choi and Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky.

Rather, the plaintiffs want to change the law and should make their argument at the Legislature, Roche said.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance and the Minnesota Freedom Council both support the voter ID constitutional amendment. But Kaardal said that the complaint and the amendment are separate issues.

“Presumably photo ID would reduce the number of checks required because your residency would be there,” Kardaal said. “But you’d still have to do the felon check and the ward check.”

Secretary of State Ritchie has said that voter ID amendment would effectively dismantle same-day voter registration.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank said he will take no more than 60 days to issue his ruling on the complaint.

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