[Image courtesy of leg.state.mn.us]
As the dust settles on Election Day 2014, many new elected officials are beginning to discuss what they have in mind upon taking office next year. Minnesota’s incoming Secretary of State Steve Simon is no exception – and he laid out his plans for next year recently in an interview with the Associated Press – an article that suggests that Republicans in the Legislature are open to some, but not all of the changes proposed:
Steve Simon is preparing to hop from one branch of Minnesota’s government to another.
Simon, a Democrat, won a close race to replacing retiring Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and moves to his next chapter after 10 years in the state House where he made a reputation as an elections expert.
With a legislative wish list of new voting laws and changes to old ones — in keeping with his “make voting easier, not harder” mantra — Simon will remain a strong presence at the Capitol even after he’s sworn in as the state’s top election official early next year.
Here’s what he’s hoping to get done:
Simon wants to take the state’s first experience with no-excuse absentee voting — a law he championed — a step further: early voting.
Minnesota had a record number of absentee voters in the election. The expanded use with few problems should convince lawmakers previously skeptical of early voting to give it another look.
“We can build off that,” Simon said.
The change would be mostly mechanical. Rather than keeping absentee ballots locked up until Election Day, early voters’ ballots would be processed immediately — a change Simon said would give voters peace of mind. And it would save local election officials money because absentee ballots are more expensive to handle, he said.
Combined with electronic poll books, which election officials tested this year to speed up voter registration, Simon said there’s a clear path to ease congestion at polling places on Election Day.
Incoming Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt was noncommittal about an early voting bill’s chances in the new Republican-controlled House. He said any expansion of voting access needs to be balanced with concerns about voter fraud.
Support from Daudt’s caucus and his fellow Republicans in the state Senate will be crucial — Gov. Mark Dayton has said he’ll only sign election bills that have bipartisan backing.
Both Daudt and Simon favor an earlier primary, improving the odds for moving it to June.
But Simon said he knows pushing the primary back will be a tough sell for some lawmakers. For years he fought to move it from September to June, eventually settling for the current August primary.
“I know from carrying this bill there are really, surprisingly passionate feelings on both sides — and mostly on the ‘no’ side,” he said. “It’s a heavy lift legislatively.”
He and Daudt agree that an earlier date would likely boost turnout in the low-voting primaries. Minnesota’s Aug. 12 primary was among the latest in the nation and barely hit 10 percent turnout.
Though it won’t be a top issue for House Republicans, Daudt said he’d advocate for an earlier primary.
“It is something that I do think is better for Minnesotans,” he said.
STREAMLINE VOTER REGISTRATION
To Simon, another way to boost turnout can be found in the long lines to get or renew a driver’s license.
Automating the Department of Vehicle Services’ system would give Minnesotans a clearer choice to register to vote simultaneously. Currently, applicants need to check a box on the paper forms.
“It is sometimes overlooked,” Simons said. His proposal would force Minnesotans to click ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
A similar overhaul in Delaware cost more than $600,000, but the state is on track to recoup those costs in a few years.
This last proposal could engender some resistance in the Legislature, but given that increase in registration before Election Day (often referred in Minnesota as “pre-registration”) could cut down on registration at the polls, which has been a point of concern for some legislators.
I’ll be watching for similar previews from other states – stay tuned!