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Tim Pugmire, MPR News 90.3 FM, Published March 05 2013

Minn. needs GOP backers to pave way for early voting

ST. PAUL – On the heels of a failed Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would have required Minnesotans to present photo identification at the polls, Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have introduced legislation designed to make voting easier through early voting.

Under the proposed Senate omnibus elections bill, eligible Minnesota voters could begin casting their ballots 15 days before Election Day. The new early voting window would close on the Friday before the election. The sweeping bill also would allow more people to vote by absentee ballot without having to state a reason why they can’t vote in person at their neighborhood polling place on Election Day.

So far, however, the proposed election chances have yet to receive any Republican support, which could be the key to their becoming law. Even though Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has said he will sign only election bills that have bipartisan support.

The bill’s chief author, Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, told members of the Senate rules committee Monday that early voting would simplify the election system.

“Early voting saves costs for local election administrators, and I think it adds the convenience that Minnesotans want in terms of being able to vote at a time that is more convenient,” Sieben said.

The so-called “no excuse” absentee voting in the bill would follow the same schedule currently in law and allow residents of more small cities to move to vote by mail.

Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said voters are busy people, and they want options.

But Republicans have questioned whether early voting would violate the state constitution, which sets a specific date for elections. They’ve also raised concerns about adding more layers to the system. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson said he thinks the bill could confuse people.

“It begins to look to me like our system of voting is becoming pretty complicated – not only for the folks who want to vote but for the folks who are in the polling places and the auditor’s offices and the election judges and the poll watchers,” Newman said.

The DFL push for election law changes follows last fall’s defeat of a Republican-backed constitutional amendment to require photo identification for voting. Newman was a chief sponsor of the amendment, along with Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.

Kiffmeyer said she didn’t want to question the motives of Democrats, but she finds their approach curious.

“They won the election last year on current election law, and they also said, ‘It’s great, everything’s wonderful,’ ” she said. “Now we’ve got this big mama of an omnibus election bill, and I’m like, wow, what changed there?”