Minnesota enacts automatic voter registration, penalties for election misinformation
The changes to state election law will help Minnesota remain a leader in voter participation, say Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor and lawmakers.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota will have automatic voter registration in future elections under a bill signed into law Friday, May 5, by Gov. Tim Walz.
That change to state election law and others, including preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and a permanent absentee ballot option, will help Minnesota remain a leader in voter participation, said the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor and lawmakers.
"It builds on Minnesota's proud tradition of strengthening, expanding, investing in the voices of Minnesotans," said Rep. Emma Greenman, a Minneapolis DFLer who was the bill's main author in the House. "We are choosing to be a north star by expanding the freedom to vote and strengthening the power of voters in our elections."
Lawmakers, advocates and state officials, including Secretary of State Steve Simon, the state's top elections official, joined the governor for a bill signing at the state Capitol on Friday.
Simon noted that it had been almost 50 years since Minnesota became one of the first states to enact same-day voter registration — something he called the "crown jewel" of the state's election laws.
"The fact that Minnesota has some of the highest voter turnout in America year after year, after year, is not an accident," Simon said. "It's not something in the water; Minnesotans value voting, period."
Minnesota has tended to be one of the top states for voter turnout, and led the nation with 80% of eligible voters casting a ballot in 2020. In the 2022 midterm elections, which typically see lower turnout, Minnesota had a 60% voter turnout.
Minnesota's next statewide election is in 2024. Under the new law, applications for the following would result in automatic voter registration:
- New or renewed driver's license or state identification card
- Initial or renewal application for MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance
- Application for benefits or services to another participating agency
Automatic registration would mean about 450,000 added or updated voter registrations per year, according to the Secretary of State's Office. There are more than 3.5 registered voters in Minnesota.
The bill DFLers call the "Democracy for the People Act" also creates new penalties for election misinformation and interfering with poll workers.
Spreading false information about voting 60 days before an election and harassing or intimidating election officials or voters would be a gross misdemeanor.
While DFLers say the changes will boost participation in elections and protect democracy, Republican critics said the bill's passage and enactment violate a tradition at the Capitol where elections bills generally pass with support from both parties.
The bill passed the House 70-57 and the Senate 34-33, both on party lines, something Republicans argued could hurt trust in the system.
In addition to the registration and misinformation law changes, the bill would alter state campaign finance rules to place checks on corporate influence on Minnesota elections. Currently, groups not directly affiliated with candidates have significant freedom to spend money on elections without disclosing their donors.
The "Democracy for the People Act" would seek to close this so-called dark money loophole by requiring reporting on independent spending. It also aims to bar foreign-influenced corporations from influencing elections.
Republican opponents raised concerns that new campaign finance disclosure requirements would unfairly interfere with businesses' ability to participate in politics, potentially violating the precedent set by the 2009 "Citizens United" decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
They also protested that Walz in the past said changes to the state's election laws should be bills that pass with bipartisan support.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, the top Republican on the House Elections Committee, raised concerns that many of the provisions in the bill, including the misinformation and corporate money restrictions, might attract lawsuits.
Changing the state's election laws is a top priority for the governor and Democratic lawmakers, who won control of the Senate back from Republicans in November and now control both chambers of the Legislature.
Earlier this year, Walz signed into law restoring voting rights to more than 50,000 felons on probation in Minnesota.
Other election changes headed toward becoming law include Minnesota committing its Electoral College votes to presidential candidates who win the national popular vote.
There's also a proposal to change the definition of major party status that would make it harder for smaller parties to be guaranteed a spot on the statewide ballot.
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