Mary Kiffmeyer MT

Sen. Mary Kiffemayer

The Minnesota Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee passed on a 5-3 party-line vote an omnibus budget bill on April 7 that would make changes to same-day voter registration.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican lawmaker from Big Lake who chairs the committee, said the bill provides for free and fair elections that would instill confidence in voters, while others have criticized it for dismantling same-day voter registration.

Minnesota is one of only three states in the nation that do not provide provisional ballots on Election Day. These ballots are for individuals who have not registered and would not otherwise be able to register same-day due to lack of identification, but still want to vote. 

So how would it work? 

Ballots cast by people who register on the day of the election wouldn’t be counted and added to that day’s totals. Their ballots would be set aside as provisional ballots, and their votes could be added to the total later if local election administrators can verify their addresses and other eligibility criteria.

Minnesota Republicans have suggested ending same-day registration altogether, but they offer this as the middle ground between the current system and imposing a hard deadline to register weeks before an election.

Minnesota’s same-day system allows voting-age adults the opportunity to make a last-minute decision to participate. Or it lets people re-register if they’ve changed addresses since the last time they voted.

Kiffmeyer, Minnesota’s former secretary of state, has noted that elections are not surprise events, but rather well-publicized occurrences.

“I want all Minnesotans to be encouraged to participate each election cycle, regardless of party,” Kiffmeyer said in a press release, “and the way to do that is to make voting easily accessible while maintaining the extremely important integrity of our elections. 

“Studies show that individuals from each party have concerns about the security of tactics like ‘vouching’ at the polls because there is almost no way to track that. Commonsense measures like this are key to providing fair, free, and open elections in Minnesota.” 

Current Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, opposes the idea of switching to a provisional ballot system. He says it throws up unnecessary barriers to thousands of legitimate voters in a state where documented cases of voter impersonation and double voting are extremely rare.

“Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people use Election Day registration in Minnesota, and this would basically destroy that,” Simon told KARE 11 after the vote.

“It would mean if you show up to register on Election Day, you’re not really registering to vote. You’re registering to put your ballot in a ‘maybe pile’ — maybe it will be counted, maybe it won’t. We’ve never had that since statehood.”

Under the Senate bill, individuals deemed by the courts, secretary of state, or Department of Public Safety as challenged voters would also be included in the group to use provisional ballots. The voter is allowed to register and cast a ballot but given one week to prove eligibility in order for their vote to be counted. 

Kiffmeyer’s news release describes provisional ballots as a safe, easy to measure, a broadly accepted method across the nation to ensure each vote is treated equally and counted in a timely manner.

A 2018 audit of Minnesota’s voter registration highlighted provisional ballots as a simple measure to prevent voter fraud. Provisional ballots still allow eligible voters to register and vote on Election Day and their ballots receive the same protections as those who were registered ahead of time. Provisional ballots are also said to prevent ineligible individuals, such as those serving a felony sentence, non-U.S. citizens, or those who do not meet residency requirements, from participating in the election and marginalizing their neighbor’s ballots. 

Simon, meanwhile, says a lot can go wrong in the ensuing week after an election, and local elections workers may not be able to reach each voter to clarify issues with their signatures or name spellings.

In the 2020 elections, which were marked by high levels of mail-in absentee ballots during a pandemic, nearly 260,000 Minnesotans registered on Election Day. In 2016, the last pre-pandemic presidential election year, more than 350,000 people — more than 10% of all voters — registered on the day they voted.

This bill put forward by the Senate committee contains comprehensive funding for the state government’s budget. Kiffmeyer said other budget highlights include: 

•Limits to the number of state employees based on the state’s population. 

•Reduced funding to agencies for positions that are unfilled after 180 days. 

•Equitable geographic distribution of state employee layoffs. 

•Sale of the unused state-owned COVID-19 morgue in St. Paul. 

•Protections for cybersecurity, including the establishment of a Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity. 

The Republican-controlled Senate is likely to support this bill, and members will then need to negotiate with members of the Democratic-conrolled House of Representatives before a bill voted on, and, if passed, presented to Gov. Tim Walz.

The Minnesota House State Government Finance and Elections Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Michael Nelson, approved an omnibus state government finance and elections bill of its own on April 7 with an 8-5 party-line vote before sending it to the House Ways and Means Committee, according to the Session Daily for the Minnesota House of Representatives.

This bill calls for the state to:

•Establish procedures for automatic voter registration when applying for a driver’s license or state identification card.

•Restore the right to vote for individuals convicted of a felony once they are released from incarceration.

•Create a legislative commission on cybersecurity.

•Direct Minnesota’s Department of Management and Budget to contract with a qualified auditor to conduct an annual audit of the state’s use of federal grant funds, something managed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor since 1983.

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