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Judge says online voter registration illegal

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie illegally set up an online voter registration system, a judge ruled Monday.

Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann ordered Ritchie to end online registration at midnight today, but said anyone who has registered via the Internet by then will not have to register again. After that, the judge ruled, registration will be void.

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Ritchie’s office had no immediate comment.

The lawsuit was brought by the Minnesota Voters’ Alliance, Minnesota Majority and several Republican state Reps. Mary Franson of Alexandria, Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Ernie Leidiger of Mayer and Jim Newberger of Becker.

Ritchie began the online registration Sept. 26, bringing quick response from legislators of both parties who said that state law only allows the Legislature to make such a decision.

Guthmann’s ruling came hours before the Senate was to take up a bill that would establish online registration. That debate was postponed until Tuesday to give bill authors a chance to see how the court ruling could affect their efforts.

Before September, the judge wrote, “Minnesota voters could register to vote in multiple ways but, with some exceptions, each way required the physical completion and delivery of a paper form. Each registration method is expressly authorized by statute.”

Guthmann said that state law specifically says a voter registration application must be signed by the would-be voter and must be on paper. He said the law Ritchie used as his argument in favor of establishing online registration does not apply.

“If the Legislature intended to sanction electronic delivery of voter registration application in all cases, it could have done so,” Guthmann wrote.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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