By Let People Vote – ACLU People Power
This year brought important changes to Minnesota election law, bringing good news for young voters, people voting after release from prison, and people wishing to vote ahead of election day. This article highlights several important changes; additional changes and information are at the Secretary of State’s website: mnvotes.gov.
Pre-Registration for 16- and 17-Year Olds
One change already in effect is the opportunity for all 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. This was a youth-driven change that high school students advocated for at the legislature. It gives high school educators, as well as family, coaches, and other community mentors, more ways to engage students in exercising their right to vote while they are still in school, which helps them become life-long voters.
In an interview, Secretary of State Steve Simon referred to this change as “refreshing and renewing our civic spirit” through the participation of young voters, saying that “every generation brings to it a different insight.” Young people historically vote at lower rates, and this change is part of the movement to help them see themselves as voters and start making their voices heard at the ballot box as soon as they turn 18. Other states with pre-registration see a higher rate of participation among the youngest group.
If you are 16 or 17 and want to pre-register, you can do it through the regular voter registration portal at mnvotes.gov or use a paper registration form. Your pre-registration will automatically convert to a regular registration on your eighteenth birthday, and you will be all set to vote!
Restore The Vote
Another important change this year is restoring the right to vote for people with felony convictions. Previously, Minnesotans with felony convictions could not vote until they had completed all terms of sentencing, including parole or supervised release. With this change, the right to vote is restored as soon as a person is no longer in prison. This single change restored voting rights to at least 55,000 Minnesotans and took effect June 1. It eliminates confusion and helps formerly incarcerated Minnesotans to feel a sense of belonging and participate more fully in their communities.
The Secretary of State’s office is working with the Department of Corrections, as well as a coalition of community groups called the Restore the Vote Coalition (restorethevotemn.org), to spread the word about this change and ensure that newly re-enfranchised citizens are aware of their rights. No specific permission is needed – if you are newly eligible to vote under this law, you can register to vote using the regular voter portal at mnvotes.gov, or use a paper voter registration form.
Temporary Voting Locations
Counties and municipal clerks can designate additional temporary voting locations at least 47 days before the election. Counties must provide an in-person absentee location on reservation land at a location agreed upon by the Tribe and the county auditor for at least one day if they receive a request from a federally recognized Tribal Nation. This helps increase opportunities to vote early for voters who need more flexible locations and times for voting.
New changes also strengthen protections at the poll. The new law prohibits any effort to use or threaten intimidation to influence an election official. Tampering with electronic voting systems and equipment is also illegal.
Automatic Voter Registration
The election bill passed this year includes a provision for automatic voter registration, meaning that eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote when obtaining a driver’s license or state-issued ID. This change will go into effect once the system for it is certified, which is expected to be in 2024.
The Secretary of State’s office estimates that hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans may be added to the voter rolls due to this change. In the future, additional scenarios may also be added to the system; for example, when people apply for medical assistance or state fishing or hunting licenses, they may also be added to the automatic voter registration line. Based on the experiences of other states, Minnesota is focusing first on state-issued IDs in order to reach the largest pool of unregistered eligible voters, while helping ensure a smoother rollout.
Permanent Absentee Ballots
Starting in June of 2024, voters will be able to request to be on a permanent list of absentee voters. This means that they will automatically be sent an absentee ballot, rather than needing to re-apply for every election. An increasing number of voters are looking for more options to vote, and this system is designed to meet that demand. Previously, voters could sign up to receive an absentee ballot application, but still had to request the ballot. This streamlines the process by having the actual ballot sent directly to the voter every time.
Voters can request to be removed from the list at any time, and the Secretary of State’s office works with the post office to update addresses when people move. Just like in the current system, voters using absentee voting will be able to track their ballot on the mnvotes.gov website to ensure that it is received and counted.
This system will not be in place for the fall 2023 election. To vote absentee this year, you will need to use an absentee ballot request form downloadable at mnvotes.gov.
This Year’s Election
2023 is a year of local elections. While they do not get the attention and turnout that presidential elections do, they are at the heart of the issues that are closest to home for all of us in our local communities – housing, zoning, police and fire departments, arts boards, transit, roads, and more. Each of us have issues we care about, and because of these election changes, more Minnesotans than ever will have a chance to make our voice heard at the ballot this fall.
For more information, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XikdEXXW89s.