Senate committee approves early voting

The Minnesota Senate subcommittee on elections approved legislation Thursday that would allow people to vote beginning 15 days before Election Day.

Right now, the state has a no-excuse absentee voting system. The only ways to vote absentee are by mail or by visiting a polling place. But if the absentee ballot is cast in person, the voter has to fill out lots of paperwork and the ballot is kept under lock and key until Election Day.

Bill sponsor Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said the process is confusing for voters, because they expect to be able to cast a ballot as easily as they would on Election Day.

“If our goal here is to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot, and that their ballot is counted, it’s clear that early voting increases the likelihood that a voter who is eligible to vote, that his or her vote is counted,” said Sieben.

The early no-excuse absentee voting system was popular among voters, said Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky. But it was also costly and time-consuming, with some voters waiting in line for nearly an hour.

“Next year we have our presidential election,” Manksy said. “We have no incumbent president running next year. Our expectation is very close to a record high turnout.”

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said she has concerns that an early voting system will damage the integrity of the voter registration process.

And Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, said he’s concerned an extra 15 days to vote will only make campaigns more vicious and expensive on the airwaves.

“So often in elections, whether it’s a candidate or third party, they put an awful lot of money in in that last week,” Hall said. “To me, we’re encouraging more money to be spent on elections. I think we spend too much money right now on elections.”