Controversial online voting registation begins in Minnesota


photo courtesy of Caroline Yang

Voters will still be able to register using traditional methods, such as through a political party or on election day.

On Tuesday, as Minnesotans will head out to exercise their constitutional right by selecting local representatives at the polls, they may find the process more streamlined than before, thanks to a new provision by the Minnesota Secretary of State which introduced online voter registration.

The new system allows an eligible voter to register online as opposed to going through a political party, county official, or on election day; while it may seem like a simple change, there has been quite a lot of pushback from those on both sides of the aisle. “Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has clearly overstepped his authority and taken the law into his own hands. It’s not Mark Ritchie’s job as Secretary of State to write new laws.” MN GOP spokeswoman Rebekah Clearman said.

The issue of jurisdiction has been a concern for many, specifically concerning who should have made such a decision. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the man in charge of Minnesota voting, asserts that despite criticism, he did have the right to make such a call. “In 2000, the legislature passed a law that required agencies to acknowledge online fillings,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, “My office sees online voter registration as a requirement by that law.”

There are quite a few concerns from supporters alike, but are still skeptical about the possible implications. One such issue is privacy protection, and identity theft. “Because we have had data privacy issues as a state in the past we want to make sure that we take time and have all eyes looking at it, and have the checks and balances in place,” DFL Senator from District 44, Terri Bonoff, said.

As MN secretary of state, was Mark Ritchie overstepping his bonds in enacting online voter registration?

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Despite vocal unease, Ritchie believes the new system does a better job protecting voter’s privacy. “We’ve had an online system for voter registration lists for about thirty years and never had a problem because there’s a lot of steps in place to prevent attacks to the service. It’s great,” Ritchie said.

While there are some skeptics, many on both sides acknowledge the need for such a system, and the subsequent benefits. “I think it will be positive, especially with regard to new voters––it’s important that we are 21st century ready, and have those options available,” Bonoff said.

Economics also plays a role in the new system, with some estimates saying it could save Minnesota upwards of a million dollars. “These online services have proven to be much less expensive––you save about eighty cents per filing at the county level, and in a big year there will be about 800,000 voter registrations in Minnesota,” Ritchie said.

The new system also hopes to expand voter registration and participation through the more streamlined process. “I think this will have a positive impact on my constituents, especially with new voters in high density locations to be able to avoid longer lines at the polling places and the hassle that can come with registration,” Senator Bonoff said.

Minnesota joins 14 other states with online voter registration, and those on both sides of the issue will be watching closely in the upcoming elections to see the effects of this new initiative.