When the Minnesota Legislature convened this week, legislators focused on how state government will deal with a $1.5-billion budget surplus. Democrats will demand increased funding for programs such as education and health care and Republicans will urge a tax cut. A Democrat sits in the governor’s office and Democrats control the House, but the Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate, thanks to Jeff Howe’s special election in District 13, so there will be compromises ahead.
While agreement on the budget may be months off, there’s one set of legislative proposals that should be supported by both parties. Secretary of State Steve Simon announced what he calls his “Investing in Democracy” agenda aimed at maintaining Minnesota’s nation-leading role for voter turnout and voting rights.
Simon’s agenda includes four components: increased security, decreased barriers to voter registration, restoration of voting rights for those who were formerly incarcerated and protecting voter privacy.
To improve Minnesota’s voter security, Congress allocated more than $6.6 million. Unfortunately, legislators and the governor could not agree last session and these funds were not allocated, making Minnesota the only state not to receive this federal investment in time for the 2018 election. Democrats and Republicans should quickly agree on legislation to get this money.
To make voting easier, Simon proposes automatically registering people when they interact with government agencies unless they opt out. Automatic voter registration would update the current “motor voter” law, which allows eligible Minnesotans to register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license.
While Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter participation, the turnout in the 2018 general election was just 64.25 percent and only 86.8 percent of eligible Minnesotans were registered to vote. Automatic voter registration will save money and improve voter participation.
Easy access to the ballot is a central tenet of Minnesota’s elections. However, a person who has been convicted of a felony but has left prison behind is ineligible to vote while on parole or on probation. Approximately 60,000 Minnesotans are currently barred from voting because they have been convicted of a felony and have not had their civil rights restored. Simon proposes making Minnesota the 17th state in the nation in which voting rights are restored as soon as a person convicted of a felony is released from prison. If the justice system determines an individual is worthy of release back into their community, they should have the right to participate in our democracy.
Passed in 2016 by the legislature, the law creating the 2020 presidential primary requires separate ballots for each political party, requires all voters disclose to election officials the party ballot they choose and makes that data public record. Minnesotans have not had to disclose their party affiliation while registering or at the polls. That privacy should be protected for Minnesotans to cast a truly secret ballot.
The primary would replace the presidential straw polls taken at precinct caucuses, events sponsored by the political parties. But the local taxpayers will fund the presidential primary, in addition to the general primary in August and the general election in November.
The legislature should repeal the section of the presidential primary law that mandates revealing voters’ party preferences and the legislature should vote to conduct the presidential primary by mail, saving millions of dollars. In other states, mail ballots have resulted in increased participation.
The last legislative session ended with deadlock on key issues and frustrated voters. Early action on Simon’s proposals should give both parties a win, showing Republicans and Democrats can work together to solve Minnesota’s problems.