ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Minnesota Senate Republicans are advancing legislation to restrict same-day voter registration, sparking a debate over election rules in the state with the country's highest voter turnout.
The Senate State Government committee passed its omnibus bill on a 5-3 party-line vote Wednesday. It would also end the practice that allows registered voters to vouch for an unregistered person at the polling place.
Republicans said the moves are necessary to instill confidence in Minnesota's elections, while Democrats including Secretary of State Steve Simon said the restrictions amounted to voter suppression.
"It would totally dismantle same-day voter registration," Simon said in an interview. "This isn't some boutique service. This is something that hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans use every election."
In the 2020 general election, 259,742 people registered to vote on Election Day despite low in-person turnout because the coronavirus pandemic led record numbers to vote absentee. In 2016, there were 353,179 same-day registrants.
Minnesota is one of 21 states that allow people to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.
The Senate GOP's proposal is unlikely to become law because Democrats control the House and governor's office. Wednesday, House Democrats advanced their own elections bill that would automatically register a person to vote when applying for a driver's license.
The Senate bill would end the practice known as "vouching," which allows a registered Minnesota voter to sign an oath confirming an unregistered voter's address, allowing that person to cast a ballot.
It also bans cities from allowing ranked-choice voting, something Minneapolis currently uses for municipal elections.
Republicans said Minnesota's election laws invite voter fraud, though they did not cite specific examples of wrongdoing that their changes would have prevented.
"It's what we must do to make sure everybody trusts and believes only eligible voters cast ballots," said state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch.
The party-line committee vote capped an intense debate that focused on recently passed restrictions in Georgia and Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star Game out of the state in response.
State Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested that Minnesota could face similar economic consequences if the provisional ballot measure passes.
"I think we can all understand the amount of economic activity that will now be lost for Atlanta because state legislators like ourselves decided to make it more difficult to vote," Fateh said.
Republicans countered by accusing Fateh of misrepresenting Georgia's new law by referring to it as "voter suppression."
"Thank you, Sen. Fateh, for showing really your ignorance on what the Georgia law really does," said state Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound.
The Georgia law places new limits on absentee voting, limits the number of ballot drop-boxes per capita, and bans mobile voting units, among numerous other changes.