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Walz signs "Democracy for the People Act" allowing automatic voter registration, pre-registration for teens

Gov. Walz signs into law elections bill
Gov. Walz signs into law elections bill 01:01

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's Democrat Gov. Tim Walz on Friday signed the "Democracy for the People Act" into law, a sweeping bill aimed at expanding access to the polls that includes long-sought after provisions from voting rights advocates.

The legislation implements automatic voter registration, allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, and creates a permanent absentee voter list that will automatically send people who sign up a ballot each election.

"Today is a great day for Democracy," Walz said. "The ballot is the most powerful thing we have. Your voice is in your ballot. And if you don't have access to that or it's made more difficult, your voice is stifled."

The proposal also requires voting materials and sample ballots to be in languages other than English and prohibits voter intimidation at the polls, among other provisions.

Minnesota joins 22 other states and Washington, D.C. with automatic voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. David Maeda, the director of elections in the secretary of state's office, said in January there's an estimated 575,000 eligible, but unregistered voters in Minnesota.

Secretary of State Steve Simon, also a Democrat, praised the measure during a bill signing ceremony on Friday surrounded by supporters. He acknowledged that 50 years ago, then-Secretary of State Joan Growe began the push for some of these provisions.

That was around the same time Minnesota became the first state to allow same-day voter registration on Election Day, which Simon described as the "crown jewel" of the state's election laws. Growe was in attendance for the bill signing.

"The fact that Minnesota has some of the highest voter turnout in America year after year after year is not an accident. It's not a coincidence. It's not something in the water. Minnesotans value voting. Period," Simon said. That is a fact. And that shows up in the laws that we pass and in the reforms that we embrace."

The bill passed both chambers along party-lines. Republicans criticized Democrats of scrapping a long tradition of passing election bills on a bipartisan basis.

At a recent news conference, GOP lawmakers said they were particularly concerned about a changes to campaign finance law designed to put a spotlight on money in politics. One provision would require more advocacy groups behind political ads to have to disclose what candidate or issue they support or oppose and another would limit foreign-influenced corporations the ability to donate to campaigns or make independent expenditures.

They said the latter runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United and will open the door to legal challenges.

"We know that many of our citizens are questioning the validity and the authenticity of our elections," said Rep. Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska. "The work we do here should increase their confidence that our elections are being run fairly. And we don't believe that anything in this bill increases that public confidence."

With weeks left before the legislature is set to adjourn, lawmakers are hashing out details of large spending packages that also include many policy changes. A state government omnibus bill up for debate has additional changes to election law, including new penalties for intimidation of poll workers.

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