Politics and Government

Minnesota House advances automatic voter registration, donor disclosure requirements

A person speaks at a podium
Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, on Thursday spoke with reporters about her proposal to set up an automatic voter registration system and set penalties for voter intimidation.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

The Minnesota House of Representatives advanced a bill that would streamline voter registration and require groups active in state campaigns to disclose more information. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans criticizing a provision to limit certain corporate contributions.

The bill would create an automatic voter registration system, let 16 and 17 year olds pre-register to vote, set penalties for harassing or intimidating voters and prevent corporations with leadership outside the United States from contributing to political campaigns in Minnesota.

DFL lawmakers at the Capitol have said the measure is one of their top priorities this year. And the bill’s author, Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, said her proposal would make it easier for Minnesotans to cast their vote and represents a break with other states that have placed tougher restrictions on voting.

“Minnesota has a strong tradition of inclusive democracy of strong local elections. And today, we're going to say we're going to protect and we're going to strengthen that,” Greenman said. “We're going to be a North Star for states around the country, for people around the country who are asking in this moment, ‘What does American democracy look like?’”

Under the proposal, Minnesotans could register to vote absentee on a permanent basis and access additional voting resources available in languages other than English. DFL lawmakers and advocates for the change said it would boost voter participation.

“New voters say that they get a sense of liberation and empowerment when performing their civic duty,” Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “By enhancing access to voting, whether through ease of registration, language access or protecting voters from voter intimidation, this bill makes it clear that we want Minnesota to be a state where people vote.”

People stand with signs
Supporters of an election bill up for debate on Thursday cheered on DFL lawmakers as they exited the House chamber for a caucus meeting.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Republicans in the chamber raised concerns about the provision that would ban campaign contributions from corporations based outside of the United States. They proposed adding international labor unions to the group of foreign corporations that would be barred from making contributions and narrowing the time frames when the limits would apply.

Republicans also sought to institute provisional balloting for voters who register on Election Day. The amendments were voted down in the DFL-led chamber.

Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, said the bill, if enacted, could infringe on protected speech and benefit DFL lawmakers over others.

“It seems to be designed to benefit their allies and to punish their enemies. And we just think that's the wrong approach,” Niska said. “From a constitutional perspective, it's also something that's very likely to be challenged to be struck down and, again, leave Minnesota taxpayers on the hook to pay the legal fees of the challengers to this legislation.”

People at podium
Minnesota Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey (second from left) opposes House bill on voting and elections, saying the limits on campaign contributions could be unconstitutional.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

DFLers said the disclosure would help prevent groups outside the U.S. from having an outsized voice in Minnesota’s political campaigns.

GOP lawmakers also said that without their support, the measure should be set aside.

“We have a long history in the state of Minnesota that we have bipartisan support for election bills that come out of this Legislature and make it to the governor's desk,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said. “This bill has zero Republican support.”

DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz said that bipartisan backing standard fell by the wayside after some Republicans in recent years denied the result of the 2020 election and stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent its certification.

Walz told reporters this week that he supported the bill and that he thought most Minnesotans would, too.

“When we've got folks in this building [who] will not stand up and say, ‘The elections were fair and free, or that was an attack on our democracy,’ we're not going to hold some unwritten rule to stop very clear ways to make elections more open, more affordable or more accessible to folks,” Walz said.

The bill is teed up for a Senate vote but its authors in that chamber weren’t yet sure when it would be scheduled. Other provisions that would create penalties for harassing election workers and boost the state’s public subsidy program were set to come forward in later bills, Greenman said.

“House File 3 is the ceiling,” she said, “not the floor.”

MPR News Correspondent Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

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