MN GOP senators seek hearing on online voter registration

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate are calling on majority Democrats to schedule a hearing within the next week to address their concerns about a new online voter registration system.

GOP lawmakers have accused DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie of overstepping his authority when he launched the system last month without specific direction from the Legislature. Legislative Auditor James Nobles added his weight to the accusation last week when he said Ritchie had used a statute that was not directly intended to authorize online voter registration.

Senate Minority leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, made a formal request today for a Subcommittee on Elections hearing on the issue. They sent a letter to the panel's chair Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, in which they explained that Ritchie's actions "are of grave concern" to them.

"It is our understanding that you do intend to hold a committee hearing on this matter after the 2014 session starts," Hann and Newman wrote. "However, given the fact that it is currently being used, such delay in action is simply not acceptable."

In an interview, Hann added that he thinks Ritchie could also take some steps to address the GOP concerns.

"I would hope the secretary of state would recognize that he has maybe over stepped what he has the authority to do and call a halt to this and give the Legislature time to act," Hann said. "It's unfortunate that he did not bring this idea to the Legislature this year."

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Sieben was not immediately available for comment.

Ritchie said last week that he looked forward to further discussions about the system.

UPDATE

Sen. Sieben responded to Hann and Newman and said she intends to call a hearing during the 2014 legislative session,  but not sooner.

"I agree with Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles' assessment that this system should be implemented with enabling legislation. However, we are unable to take any official action on legislation prior to the 2014 session," Sieben wrote. "I take very seriously our responsibility to promote secure and ethical elections in Minnesota. I will provide ample notice of this hearing to both the public and all committee members at the appropriate time."

Also, the Office of the Secretary of State announced it has now received 1,123 online applications from new voters or to update existing registrations, since Sept. 26.