By Michael D. Hernandez

Minnesota’s online voter registration website never missed a beat last week thanks to the swift passage of a bill that defined the Legislature as the proper authority for setting state elections policy.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed HF 2096, which set state standards for a paperless voter registration process. Minnesota implemented online voter registration in 2013 through a directive by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and, more important, without approval from the Legislature.Nineteen states now offer online voter registration.

That mechanism didn’t sit well with many lawmakers and especially with four members of the House of Representatives who joined with advocacy groups in a lawsuit that challenged Ritchie’s authority to launch online voter registration in Minnesota.

A district judge ruled on April 28 that Ritchie lacked the authority to “create and operate an on-line voter registration tool permitting prospective voters to deliver their voter registration applications electronically.” The judge ordered Ritchie to shut down the online portal by midnight the following day. The ruling also preserved the thousands of voter registrations that had been accepted electronically.

But the state’s online registration system never went dark. Dayton, hours before the court-mandated deadline, signed into law an online system that received bipartisan support from the Legislature. Minnesota, along with all other states, still offers a traditional paper form of voter registration.

Proponents of online voter registration say it provides users a more convenient way to register to vote, cuts down on data-entry errors and reduces printing costs. Critics have expressed concerns about whether such systems can keep private and secure the personal information they require of users. These issues were examined in the April 2014 edition of The Canvass.

Minnesota’s new law means that Arizona, Kansas and Missouri remain the only states that have implemented an online voter registration system without specific legislation. A total of 19 states offer online voter registration and four other states have passed legislation to create an online voter registration system.

Online voter registration has been a vibrant elections issue in 2014. Legislators in 14 states filed bills to launch or tweak an online voter registration system.

In April, a full online voter registration system became available in Delaware.

And in Georgia, 12,000 residents used their state’s recently launched online system to register to vote or update their voter registration information, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said.

Michael D. Hernandez is an NCSL elections policy specialist.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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