Jan 10, 2023 - Politics

Minnesota Democrats push election law changes

Illustration of a row of voting booths casting long shadows, the side of the booth reads "VOTE" with a checkmark as the V.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says he'll sign election-related legislation that lands on his desk β€” with or without Republican support.

Why it matters: Democrats have pledged to use their majorities at the Legislature to pass changes they say will expand voting access.

What he's saying: Walz said Monday that he thinks "bills to protect the integrity of the election" should β€” and will β€” get support from Republicans. But he's willing to enact such proposals even if they don't.

  • "Yes, I will sign bills that get to me with a majority vote to protect the right to vote," he said in response to a question from Axios.

Zoom in: Proposals introduced since the start of the new session include automatic voter registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and the option to join a permanent vote-by-mail list instead of requesting an absentee ballot for each election.

  • Legislation adding penalties for people who harass or threaten election workers is also in the works, Secretary of State Steve Simon and DFL state Rep. Emma Greenman said Monday.

Flashback: During the last DFL trifecta, then-Gov. Mark Dayton pledged to only sign election bills that had "broad bipartisan support."

  • Walz said in a 2019 interview that he would take the same approach. At the time, the Legislature was politically divided, so all bills required bipartisan support to pass.

The response: Legislative Republicans have criticized Democrats' elections agenda as "hyper-partisan wish lists."

  • Sen. Mark Koran, the GOP lead on the Elections Committee, said last week that ending a "long-standing practice of only changing election laws on a bipartisan basis... is a disservice to all voters."

The other side: Simon defended the proposals as "widely accepted, widely adopted policies, whose origins are nonpartisan," noting that some are in place in red states.

  • He said he would lobby Republicans for their buy-in, but declined to weigh in on whether Walz should use their support as a "test" for signing bills passed by both chambers.

What to watch: Democrats have also introduced a proposal to join more than 20 states that restore voting rights for people convicted of felony offenses who are on probation or parole.

  • The state Supreme Court heard a case challenging the current ban in 2021, but it has yet to release an opinion. Action by the Legislature could render the eventual ruling moot, supporters of the change say.
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