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Our View: Logic trumps partisanship in voter registration

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It was a reassuring sign that lawmakers moved quickly to preserve Minnesota's online voter registration system.

A Ramsey County district judge ruled Monday that Secretary State Mark Ritchie exceeded his authority by launching the online voting system in September without getting legislative approval first. After the judge's ruling, the Minnesota Senate wasted no time. On Tuesday, it approved a legislative measure 41-24, affirming the online system, with Gov. Mark Dayton signing the bill the same day. The House's version passed 129-2 last week.

For years, we've been able to find our polling place, look up our registration status, view a sample ballot or request an absentee ballot on the Secretary of State's website, yet online voter registration was conspicuously absent.

We already conduct so many transactions online — banking, retail purchases, paying bills and renewing licenses — so voter registration is a logical progression. Nineteen states already use such systems, and several others are considering it.

Ritchie, a Democrat, defended his decision to move ahead with the online voter registration, saying the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which was passed in 2000, required his office to provide online options for all paper transactions. Conservative groups disagreed and filed a lawsuit, maintaining the law was intended for commercial transactions, not elections.


When the system was launched, Ritchie pointed to Arizona, where online voter registration has been used for more than a decade, citing cost savings going from 83 cents to 3 cents per registration. Ritchie also said online registration would lead to fewer voter roster errors and shorter lines on election days.

The Pew Center on the States, which studied online voter registration in Arizona and Washington, came to the same conclusion, saying it saves money, increases the accuracy of voter lists and speeds up and streamlines the application process,

People using the system must provide verifiable identification data, such as a driver's license or Social Security number, in addition to birth dates and addresses. Information is cross-referenced on other government databases before it is accepted. Processing an online voter application takes one-quarter the amount of time it takes to process a written application.

Most Republican senators, including Dave Senjem, of Rochester, voted against the bill, expressing concerns about security. However, we believe the online system is much more secure than the traditional paper applications.

Previously, voters would write personal information on paper forms and turn it over to contractors working for canvassing political groups. The voter had no way of knowing how their information was used or if it was shared. Clerks then would decipher handwritten forms and type the voter information into a database.

Entering that information online from one's home is far more secure and reduces the chance of human error.

More than 3,600 Minnesotans have registered online since September. That number is likely to increase considerably as we draw closer to the November election.

Online registration is more secure, more accurate and less expensive — and it's already working. We commend Ritchie for taking the bull by the horns and forcing the issue, and we also commend the Legislature for acting quickly, especially the local Republicans — Sen. Carla Nelson, of Rochester; Sen. Jeremy Miller, of Winona; Rep. Mike Benson, of Rochester; Rep. Greg Davids, of Preston; Rep. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa; and Rep. Tim Kelly, of Red Wing — who had the courage to vote in a bipartisan manner.

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