Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Correct But Not Completely Right

When Minnesota's secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, launched online voter registration in September, I thought it probably wasn't the most politic decision ever made. Given, you know, the whole voter ID amendment fight we went through a year ago.

Part of my side's argument against the amendment was that it wasn't bipartisan: The Republicans pushed it through. Changes to voting laws, we argued, should be based on consensus between the parties after debate and revision. That's how you know the changes are fair.

Ritchie said current law gives his office the power to add online registration, and since I generally trust Ritchie, I believed him, but I still didn't think it was a great way to go about it.

Voter suppression advocates and Republican officials have sued to stop the online signup, of course, and yesterday's papers had the first story on what happened in court. Here's the fact I never knew:

[Representing Ritchie,] assistant Minnesota Attorney General Alethea Huyser defended the [online] system, arguing that it’s legal under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) passed in 2000, which authorized the use of electronic records and signatures instead of paper. Pointing out that online voter registration will likely save taxpayer money, she dismissed the challenge to online voter registration is based on principle, not illegal spending.

“It’s sort of evident that their objection is with the policy, not that system.” she said.

Kaardal [attorney for the Republicans] countered that Minnesota election law mandates that a voter registration application must be submitted “in person or by mail” and that the Legislature did not expressly point out how voter registration laws would change under the UETA.

Guthmann asked Kaardal the point of a Uniform act if it must individually amend every law to which it applies.

“Why not just say ‘This applies to everything. Isn’t everything everything?” Guthmann asked. “Why list 5,000 laws and include the exceptions?”
I guess that's why it was called the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act. So it sounds like Mark Ritchie is right -- he did have the authority to set up online registration.

Still doesn't mean it was politically the best way to go about it.

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