Auditor: Minn. Lawmakers, not Sec. of State, should OK online voter signup

Legislative Auditor James Nobles has declined to look further into whether Secretary of State Mark Ritchie overstepped his authority by launching a new online voter registration system.

Instead, Nobles said he will rely on an analysis from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department, which concluded that implementation through legislative action is “the more sound legal approach to this type of policy change.”

Nobles responded today to concerns raised by four Republican legislators, including House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Senate Minority Leader David Hann. The GOP lawmakers accused Ritchie of implementing the system unilaterally, and without statutory authority or legislative oversight. Ritchie has contended that his authority came from the 13-year-old Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which allows for the broader use of online alternatives to paper transactions in government.

In an interview, Nobles said nonpartisan House researchers made a compelling case that Ritchie’s authority is “questionable.”

“He’s used a statute that was not directly intended to authorize online voter registration,” Nobles said.

Nobles said that Ritchie has his own legal analysis, which supports the implementation. But Nobles explained in a letter to lawmakers that he could not share that analysis, because the Secretary of State claims the document is non public based on attorney-client privilege.

Nobles also said he shares the concerns GOP legislators raised about the security risks of the new online voter registration system, and plans to take a closer look.

“I would be concerned about how the system was set up and whether or not the secretary of state availed himself of the security specialists that are in state government, or possibly from an outside security consultant,” he said.

Nobles said his staff will not be able to study the system until other data security audits are completed.

Ritchie was not immediately available for comment.

UPDATE

Ritchie issued this written statement but did not respond specifically to the authority questions.

“We appreciate the thoughts and comments of the Legislative Auditor in regard to our online voter registration tool. We look forward to further discussions about the system and how it is helping to modernize Minnesota’s voter registration process and how it was built with safety and security at top-of-mind. This tool is saving costs, minimizing inaccurate records and reflects the integrity of the state’s strong voting system.”

Ritchie also reported that 869 online applications have been submitted since September 26, for new voter registration or updating of existing registration.