DFL seeks sweeping voting rights changes on Jan. 6 anniversary

Democrats in Minnesota marked the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by calling for sweeping changes to the state's voting rights laws.

At a state Capitol news conference that drew three dozen lawmakers Friday morning, Democrats said election mistrust and disinformation has worsened since the attack, adding urgency to their legislative push now that they've taken the majorities in both the House and Senate.

"We’ve seen in the last two years, the attacks on our democracy did not start and they have not stopped with Jan. 6," said state Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, and the bill's lead author. "This didn’t happen overnight, and there are no quick fixes to repairing the damage done."

The DFL's initial proposal goes far beyond physical security. Among its elements:
• Felon voting: The state would restore voting rights for felons after they're released from prison. Under current law, a person must finish his or her entire sentence, including probation or parole, before regaining the right to vote.
• Automatic voter registration: Minnesota would automatically register to vote people who have received a driver's license or state benefits such as MinnesotaCare that require proof of identification on the application.
• Pre-registration: 16- and 17-year-olds could apply to pre-register in time for their 18th birthday
• Mail voting: Minnesota voters could sign up once and receive absentee ballots by mail permanently. Right now, most voters must apply for an absentee ballot every election.
• Democracy Dollars: The state would send each registered voter two $25 Democracy Dollars coupons that the voter could grant to their preferred political candidates
Some elements of the proposal, including increased penalties for intimidating election workers, will be introduced in separate bills later, Greenman said.

Republicans reacted with skepticism about the proposal. Over the past four years of divided government, election law changes had to receive support from both parties to pass, and the GOP said Democrats should seek common ground for each of their plans.

"The fact that my colleagues across the aisle are more interested in passing their hyper-partisan wish lists than they are in finding common ground on our elections is a disservice to all voters," said state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch.

In recent years, Republicans have led failed attempts to impose photo ID requirements and provisional ballots. GOP lawmakers say their proposals would increase trust in elections.

Gov. Tim Walz broadly supports the DFL's legislative push on election changes, a spokeswoman for Walz said Friday. House Speaker Melissa Hortman said legislative leaders planned to push to get as many of the proposals to Walz's desk as soon as possible.

Democrats said they would seek Republican buy-in on their election law proposals but would pass them without GOP support if needed.

"As much as we can have bipartisanship, that's fine. But we're not going to have that as a strict line," said state Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, who chairs the Senate Elections committee.

Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, plans to release his own legislative priorities at a news conference on Monday.