Lawmakers put debacle to rest

The Legislature acted swiftly to continue online voter registration after a well-intentioned overreach.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed online voter registration into law last week, ending a long debate over the legal authority of Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s decision to create an online voter registration website on his own.

The legal battle began last fall when four Republican lawmakers and two conservative groups filed a lawsuit seeking to suspend Ritchie’s voter registration website. The plaintiffs argued that Ritchie didn’t have the authority to unilaterally launch the website, and they said the Legislature must enact website creation.

Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann ruled last week that Ritchie didn’t have the legal authority and mandated that he shut it down immediately. But just a day later, lawmakers quickly signed a bipartisan bill to allow online voter registration.

We are supportive of Guthmann’s ruling as well as the Legislature’s swift action to authorize the website. Though we are grateful for Ritchie’s enthusiasm for increasing the efficiency of elections, it’s important that lawmakers examine and scrutinize changes to the election process, even seemingly minor ones, before they take effect.

As our Nov. 6 editorial stated, unilateral changes to the voting process are problematic. If Ritchie can implement online voter registration by himself, could the next secretary of state take it down just as easily? By formally passing online voter registration though the Legislature, Minnesota joins 19 other states that offer that option. This is fitting, as Minnesota consistently leads the nation in voter turnout, like it did in 2012 when we had a 76 percent turnout rate. State measures such as same-day voter registration, which Minnesota enacted in 1974, make this possible. 

By formally authorizing online voter registration, Minnesota continues its tradition of pioneering Election Day efficiency.