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Minnesota House bill would automatically send absentee ballots to voters on specific list

Minnesota House bill would automatically send absentee ballots to voters on specific list
Minnesota House bill would automatically send absentee ballots to voters on specific list 01:48

ST. PAUL, Minn. --  A Minnesota House committee on Wednesday advanced a proposal that would automatically send absentee ballots to Minnesota voters who opt-in.

The bill would create a permanent absentee voter list. For those voters who sign up, it would eliminate the step of filling out an application to request an absentee ballot and local officials would send the ballots straight to them in the mail. 

More than 26,000 Minnesota voters are already on a list to routinely receive the paperwork to apply for an absentee ballot ahead of an election. Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, an attorney who focuses on election law, said there is often confusion about that list—people think by signing up, they'll automatically receive an absentee ballot in the mail, like the bill proposes, but that doesn't happen.

"This is just a really good common sense bill that will allow our election administrators to do something that voters expect and many Minnesotans already do in small townships or cities outside the metro," she said.

Some communities with fewer than 400 registered voters conduct elections exclusively by mail, according to the secretary of state's office. That means 150,000 Minnesotans already automatically get a ballot sent to them.

More 672,000 Minnesotans voted absentee in the 2022 election out of 2.5 million votes cast. And a record number of people voted early in-person or by mail in the 2020 election at the height of the pandemic.

State law requires a witness to attest to the voter's identity on an absentee ballot. But Republicans voiced concern about absentee ballots ending up in the wrong hands under this policy if the voter list isn't regularly updated with correct mailing addresses.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, pointed to an Legislative Auditor report in 2019 that identified the voter registration applications can "pose challenges" to county staff because incomplete information, among other issues.

"It's our job to ensure confidence and avoid some possible unintended consequences," he said.

Five states plus Washington, D.C., have permanent absentee lists similar to this legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The bill advanced out of Elections Committee on a 8-5 party-line vote Wednesday.

The effort to automatically send absentee ballots to Minnesotans who prefer to vote this way comes as the DFL-controlled legislature considers a slate of other proposals to "modernize" the state's election laws.

Those bills in include restoring the right to vote for people with felony convictions who are still on probation or parole, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, and implementing automatic voter registration when getting a state I.D. or signing up for medical assistance.

Democrats, including the DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon, also want to protect poll workers by prohibiting intimidation and the publishing of election worker's personal information without their consent, known as "doxing."

It would also forbid obstruction of election administration, including canvassing of votes. If found guilty, a person could be convicted of a gross misdemeanor and face civil penalties.

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