MN GOP lawmakers question Ritchie, new voting tool

Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate are accusing DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie of overstepping his authority with a new online voter registration system.

Ritchie’s office launched the system last month. It allows Minnesotans to register to vote or update their existing registration online. But in a letter to Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles, GOP lawmakers said that unilateral implementation did not come with statutory authority, or legislative oversight. The letter was signed by House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown; Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie; Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

“We are extremely concerned that Secretary Ritchie has decided to use dubious authority to make this change,” they wrote. “Minnesota has a rich history of requiring broad bipartisan support for any changes to election policy, and that history should be respected.”

The Republican letter also raised questions about the security of an online voter registration system, and asked Nobles to investigate potential risks. They emphasized their point by referencing the recent, accidental release of some private data by an employee of the health insurance exchange known as MnSure.

“Minnesotans deserve a peace of mind knowing that their privacy should be protected in all aspects of government,” the letter said.

Ritchie was not immediately available for comment. When he launched the new system on Sept. 26, Ritchie explained that state lawmakers had initiated the change 13 years ago as part of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which requires an online alternative to paper transactions.

“Eventually every transaction is under that mandate,” Ritchie said in an interview at the time.

A news release from Ritchie’s office last week said that the new system attracted 581 applications in its first week. That number included 313 registration updates, which were due to address or name changes. There were 66 new voter registrations, and another 175 applications are still being processed. The remaining 27 registrations could not be processed due to bad data.

Fourteen other states offer similar online registration options.

UPDATE

Nathan Bowie, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State, released this statement:

The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State has not seen the letter sent to the Legislative Auditor in regard to the online voter registration system.

The office is proud to have launched this new tool which provides significant cost savings to local election officials by reducing the primary costs of current registration: paper, printing, postage and manual data entry.

The tool was built to ensure that only persons providing verifiable identification numbers are able to register, and online applications go through the same verification process as paper registrations.

Online registration also minimizes inaccurate records that arise from processing handwritten paper forms. The Office of the Secretary of State estimates the time required by counties to process an online application is one-third to one-half of that needed to process a paper application.

The new registration tool was rolled out together in late September with an online absentee ballot application for military and overseas voters. This allows those voters to apply for an absentee ballot quickly and easily without the need to print, scan forms, and return by mail, fax or email.