A Ramsey County judge has ordered Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to shut down an online voter registration system that began operation last September.
In response to a lawsuit, Judge John Guthmann ruled today that Ritchie lacked the statutory authority to launch the system on his own.
He did not invalidate any of the registrations already completed through the system.
The ruling comes as state lawmakers are moving a bill to authorize the online system. But Dan McGrath of the election watchdog group Minnesota Majority, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he’s pleased with the ruling.
“This is another example of this current secretary of state exceeding his authority, going outside the proper channels, outside the legislative process and trying to run like a little dictatorship out of the secretary of state’s office," McGrath said. "Once again we’ve had to sue and get the court to step in and uphold the rule of law.”
A spokesman for the secretary of state was not immediately available for comment.
The online voter registration bill was coincidentally scheduled for a Senate floor vote Monday afternoon.
The House has already passed the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins. Simon said he doesn’t think the court ruling does anything to change the legislative path of the bill.
“That would have the effect of basically undoing the decision and reviving what would otherwise, we now know, be a dormant program.”
The Senate delayed its vote on the online voter registration bill until Tuesday. Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said that Republicans wanted an opportunity to read the court order first.
"I thought that that was fair," Sieben said. "I pointed out to them that it doesn't impact our legislation, because our legislation clearly establishes that Minnesota would have an online registration system."
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie issued a written statement in response to the court decision:
“While we respectfully disagree with the recent decision by the Ramsey County District Court, we look forward to the Minnesota Legislature making online registration permanent. This tool has already proven its ability to reduce tax payer costs by modernizing the work of local government. Online registration has been embraced by Minnesota voters who appreciate the security and ease of the process.”
Ritchie also provided an update on the number of online registrations, which total 3,631 since September.