Minnesota Enacts Small, But Significant Changes in Election Omnibus

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[Image courtesy of Minnesota House]

Last week, I included Minnesota in my Groundhog Day list of states because partisan disagreements on some big issues had once again halted progress of an election bill. While those disagreements remain, the Legislature did just move forward on some smaller but still significant steps in a broad bipartisan omnibus bill (enacted on the last day of session) now headed to the Governor for his signature. The Minnesota House’s website has more:

A package of tweaks to the way Minnesota administers its elections to public office is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton after the House repassed the conference committee report on
HF840/
SF455* 131-0 late Sunday night.

Sponsored by Rep. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine) and Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport), the bill includes dozens of tweaks to state election laws that govern absentee balloting, recounts, voter registration and election administration. The Senate on Sunday repassed the bill 65-0.

Some key provisions in the bill would:

+ remove a section of law that requires county attorneys to automatically proceed with prosecutions of alleged voter fraud if a complaint or evidence is brought forward, instead allowing them to proceed with investigations and prosecutions according to normal standards of law;

+ allow statutory cities to set their own candidate filing fees (a Senate measure adopted in conference committee, however, caps that fee);

+ include Minnesota National Guard members under special voting procedures for members of the military and other citizens residing overseas;

+ allow the children of residents living permanently overseas to vote in Minnesota elections if a parent resided in the state prior to leaving the country;

+ conform technical aspects of existing election law to general state statute requiring Minnesota’s presidential electors to the Electoral College to cast their vote for president and vice-president for the candidates to whom they are pledged;

+ update language relating to voting booths and ballot marking procedure;

+ allow absentee voters to return their own ballot, in person, on Election Day;

+ provide a more specific deadline for candidates to make a written request for a publicly-funded recount in a federal or state election. Current law requires a request be made within 48 hours of the election results being canvassed; that would be changed to a deadline of 5 p.m. on the second day after the canvass.

+ change policy governing vacancies in contests for partisan office by not opening a new filing period if a candidate withdraws during the 48-hour withdrawal period after filing for office;

+ permit high school students to serve as trainee election judges in any county adjacent to their home county, not just the county in which they live; and

+ clarify that the existing right of voters to take time off from work to cast a ballot extends to all regularly-scheduled elections, including local contests.

It also includes a half-dozen provisions adopted in conference committee. Those adopted include measures that would:

+ establish a task force to study preparations for potential emergencies prior to an Election Day;

+ establish school board recall language; and

+ prohibit townships from holding special elections on the date of a town’s annual meeting.

[emphasis added]

These changes – especially the ones bolded above – may lack the headline appeal of early voting or felon voting rights, but they still represent important changes for elections in the North Star State. Senate elections chair Sieben (D) expressed disappointment that these issues didn’t get into the omnibus but acknowledged that they “fell out of this proposal in the interest of getting something together at this late hour.”

Assuming the Governor signs the omnibus, I’m especially curious to see how the youth pollworker changes are put into practice and whether the ability to cast absentee ballots in person on Election Day [EDIT: at city/county offices, NOT polling places; that was eliminated after the lengthy 2010 Senate recount] sparks any interest in expanded early voting or even the so-called “Colorado model.”

Kudos to the Legislature for finding ways to come together on this long list of small but important election policy changes; while the big disagreements remain, it’s good to know that lawmakers are still able to turn the page on partisanship and enact those changes which do enjoy broad (and in this case unanimous) support.

Stay tuned …

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