Minnesota has a reputation as a good state for voting rights. It often leads the nation in voter turnout. Secretary of State Steve Simon is proud of that reputation, but says the state can do more. On the Thursday before the start of the 2019 legislative session he and legislative leaders unveiled a plan to increase voting security; decrease barriers to voter registration; restore of voting rights for those who were formerly incarcerated; and protect voter privacy. He dubbed the package “investing in democracy.”
Details of plan and video of news conference
Above: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon along with Mr. Robert Stewart, Rep. Ray Dehn, Rep. Mike Freiberg, Sen. Carolyn Laine, Rep. Jennifer Schultz, and Scott County Auditor-Treasurer Cindy Geis hold a news conference.
Below: Press release on the plan Simon announced.
Restoration of Rights
Ease of access to the ballot is a central tenet of Minnesota’s elections. In Minnesota, however, a person who has been convicted of a felony but has left prison behind is ineligible to vote while on parole or on probation.
“We have a law that says a person is safe enough to live in our community, but still too dangerous to be a voter,” said Secretary Simon. “That’s ridiculous. Shutting out those who have already done their time does not make us safer. Investing in democracy means investing in Minnesotans working to rebuild their lives to ensure they have a voice in their community.”
Approximately 60,000 Minnesotans are currently barred from voting because they have been convicted of a felony and have not had their civil rights restored. Secretary Simon proposes making Minnesota the 17th state in the nation in which voting rights are restored as soon as a person convicted of a felony is released from prison. If the justice system determines that an individual is worthy of release back into their community, Secretary Simon believes that they should have the right to participate in our democracy.
Automatic Voter Registration
Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter participation. However, in the 2018 General Election, that meant a turnout percentage of just 64.25 percent. Moreover, only 86.8 percent of eligible Minnesotans were registered to vote. Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is the policy of 15 states and Washington, D.C., and changes the way voters register by automatically registering eligible voters who interact with government agencies unless they opt-out. This process saves money, increases registration rates, and improves the accuracy of the voter rolls. In Minnesota, AVR would be an update to our current “motor voter” law, which allows eligible Minnesotans to register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license.
“Automatic voter registration will increase the number of Minnesotans who get registered,” said Secretary Simon. “Investing in Democracy means devoting resources to strengthen Minnesota’s nation-leading systems and the Minnesotans who rely on them. AVR removes barriers to registration, increases the number of voters on the rolls before Election Day, and enables our databases to automatically update your registration if you move. This is a small investment in democracy that will save money over time and grow participation.”
“It’s time to pass automatic voter registration in Minnesota,” said Representative Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth). “AVR will help protect the fundamental right of every Minnesotan to participate in our democracy, and it will improve our voting system by saving time and money. AVR will increase the efficiency of updating voter registration information and the process of voting.”
Presidential Nomination Primary
Passed in 2016 by the legislature, the Presidential Primary Law for 2020 requires separate ballots for each political party, requires that all voters disclose to election officials the party ballot that they choose, and makes that data public record.
“There is no good reason for the legislature to require public disclosure of voters’ party preference,” said Secretary Simon. “Minnesota’s voter registration system has never required a voter to state a party affiliation, yet the legislature created a back-door system of party registration when they passed the Presidential Primary Law. I am calling for the legislature to repeal the public disclosure requirement of this law. Minnesota does not need to change a system that has worked so well for us for so many years.”
In addition, the Presidential Primary Law neglects to account for all the increased costs to local and municipal taxpayers of funding a third statewide contest in a single calendar year. Traditionally, the cost of putting on Presidential caucuses was borne by the individual political parties.
“The problems we anticipate with the 2020 Presidential Nomination Primary must be solved by the legislature,” said Secretary Simon. “I stand ready to work with members of both parties on behalf of the people of Minnesota to reduce the cost and burden to local governments.”
One potential solution for some of the privacy and cost issues associated with the 2020 Presidential Nomination Primary is to conduct the primary through mail balloting. Vote by mail could save millions of dollars in election administration costs, would allow voters to choose their party preference in the privacy of their own home, and has been shown in other states to increase voter participation.
Election Cybersecurity Funding
Since Congress allocated more than $6.6 million in Help American Vote Act (HAVA) funds to Minnesota in March 2018 for election security, Secretary Simon has been working with election officials, legislators, and other stakeholders to determine the best use for these federal funds. Unfortunately, these funds were not allocated last year, making Minnesota the only state in the country not to access this federal investment in time for the 2018 election.
“This should’ve gotten done last year,” said Representative Michael Nelson (DFL – Brooklyn Park). “I’m committed to working with Speaker Hortman and my counterparts in the Senate to make sure this gets done quickly and early in the session.”
“Protecting the security of our elections systems remains a critical need,” said Secretary Simon. “Though we have no evidence of a breach or even an attempt to breach our systems in 2018, we cannot rely on past successes alone to deter potential future attacks on our system. I am pleased that both Speaker-elect Hortman and Leader Gazelka agree that this important federal investment in our democracy should be allocated quickly so that my team can get to work on needed security upgrades.”