Recently, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie circumvented the people of Minnesota and launched a new program to register voters online. We are in strong support of the idea of streamlining government by creating a secure way for Minnesota voters to register online, but we think voter registration needs to be enacted by law, not by the opinions of the secretary of state.
Minnesota has had a tradition of building bipartisan support for changes in election law. This illegal and unilateral action taken by the secretary of state threatens to undue years of bipartisan accomplishment and public confidence in election law.
This significant change in the process was done without any legislative oversight or public hearings. In light of the recent security breach at MNsure, we think the public needs to know how their private data will be kept secure in this new system.
Currently, 14 other states have similar programs to allow online registration, but each program was initiated by a change in law with the input of citizens, election experts, and legislators. In response to Secretary Ritchie's new program, we sent a letter to non-partisan Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles. Nobles shared our concern, and that of non-partisan house research, that the secretary of state's office should have waited for the Legislature to act. Nobles also shared our concerns that there may be potential security risks to the program. His office will be looking into this in the near future.
Minnesota cannot afford to wait, because more than 1,000 voters have already registered online and the results of elections this fall could be jeopardized.
We also asked Democrat Senator Katie Sieben, who chairs the elections committee in the state senate, to hold legislative hearings about the ongoing issue. Unfortunately, she decided to wait until next February to conduct any meetings. However, she agreed that the Legislature should act before online voter registration is implemented.
Secretary of State Ritchie should suspend his online voter registration system until the public can weigh in on the matter and the legislature can ensure it is secure. We should not have to go to the courts to get him to obey the law.
David Hann is Minnesota Senate Minority Leader. Scott Newman is the Republican lead on the Minnesota Senate Subcommittee on Elections.