Ritchie: court can decide online voter registration ‘disagreement’

(MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)

DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is suggesting that questions about his authority to launch a new online voter registation system without specific authorization from the state Legislature could be best resolved in court.

Republican lawmakers have accused Ritchie of overstepping his authority, and have asked him to halt the online registrations until they have a chance to weigh in on the matter. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport,  have also said they think the Legislature should approve the new system. Sieben, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on elections, said she intends to review the issue during the 2014 session.

Ritchie has not said much about the issue. But in an interview with Minnesota Senate Media Services’ Capitol Report program, he said lawyers and judges could get involved.

“It’s common that the legislative branch and the executive branch might disagree on things, and that’s why the founders in our constitution — state and federal — said if there’s a disagreement it goes to the judicial branch,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie also repeated his contention that a 13-year-old state law, known as the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, gave him the authority to launch the new system.

“In the year 2000, the Minnesota Legislature said out loud in a very large piece of legislation (that in) agencies and courts, electronic signatures must be accepted as the equivalent of written signatures,” he said.

Ritchie’s use of that law to justify his action has been questioned by Legislative Auditor James Nobles, who said  the statute was “not directly intended to authorize online voter registration.”

Weighing in on the dispute yesterday for the first time, Dayton said he supports the intent of the new system, but he believes it should have received authorization from the Legislature.

“It’s a good idea, but one that should get legislative support,” Dayton said.