Courts in Minnesota, like those in several other states, are currently considering a number of lawsuits stemming from right-wing attempts to keep as many young, poor, disabled, and/or ethnic-minority Americans as possible from casting votes in the 2012 election.
Today a federal judge in Minnesota issued a welcome decision (PDF) dismissing a lawsuit filed by the right-wing Minnesota Voters Alliance and Minnesota Freedom Council that sought to strangle, if not simply eliminate, Minnesota's popular election-day registration ("EDR") system.
The suit named Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, and officials from three counties (urban Ramsey, exurban Chisago, and rural Crow Wing) as defendants, arguing that those officials violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights by counting the ballots of thousands of election-day registrants in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections without first "confirming" those registrants' eligibility to vote.
The plaintiffs also argued that Minnesota's statutes on voting by disabled people are unconstitutional, on the grounds that they fail to remove voting rights from people (including the son of one of the plaintiffs) whom plaintiffs believe to be incapable of voting.
Today U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, a Clinton appointee, granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the case, holding that
- Plaintiffs' rights weren't violated, because there is no legal requirement that state or local election officials "confirm" a voter's eligibility (a ridiculously arduous task with severe consequences on voting rights if officials were to get it wrong) before counting her vote—all voters swear to their eligibility, under penalty of state and federal felony prosecution, before casting a ballot, and election-day registrants are required to provide additional evidence of residence;
- Under longstanding case law, federal courts don't have jurisdiction over complaints about state election procedures unless there are major "aggravating factors," such as evidence of intentional corruption, present—and plaintiffs here offered nothing of the kind; and
- Plaintiffs had entirely failed to exhaust the state-level processes by which they could have challenged the eligibility and/or the votes of the persons they believe to have voted while ineligible.
Judge Frank also dismissed the plaintiffs' legal claims regarding the eligibility of disabled voters, pointing out that (1) the plaintiffs had no standing to bring those claims and (2) plaintiffs' allegations regarding the state guardianship process and the voting rights of people subject to it were false.
Quick update: Less than 25 minutes after the publication of Frank's decision, the plaintiffs have filed notice of their appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. ...Gee, that didn't take long.
The case has gotten less press attention than other pending election lawsuits in Minnesota (the more closely watched cases at the moment are the challenges involving the Voter ID and anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendments, challenges currently pending before the state supreme court), but local media have taken some note: here are blog entries from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio, and The Uptake covering today's decision.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the lead defendant in the case, had this statement:
Today Judge Frank affirmed the constitutionality of same-day voter registration.No statements yet from the plaintiff organizations, though I'm keeping an eye on their websites.
Minnesota’s same-day voter registration serves as a model for our nation and, in part, accounts for our consistent top ranking in voter participation among all states. This year alone, the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State projects 500,000 eligible voters will use same-day voter registration at the General Election on November 6, 2012. Judge Frank’s decision ensures that these voters, many who will cast votes for the first time, will have their voices heard on Election Day.
This settles the first of two recent challenges to same-day voter registration. The other is the proposed constitutional amendment on elections which, if passed, would eliminate same-day voter registration as we know it. It is now up to the voters to decide the fate of same-day voter registration for Minnesota in November.
All in all, a good day for voters' rights in Minnesota.