The 2006 legislative session began with controversial debates over several election bills. The most heated debates were fueled by issues such as photo ID requirements, proof of citizenship for voter registration and the presence of voter fraud in Minnesota. The session ended, however, with a relatively non-controversial Elections Omnibus Bill that passed in the Senate 64-0 and in the House, 129-3.
The election bill that was most closely watched by people with disabilities, Senate File 2591 and House File 2608, would have permanently exempted Minnesota townships from using accessible voting equipment in their local elections. After the disability community voiced great opposition to the bill, the Senate and House committees recognized the need to come to an agreement with the townships and encouraged both parties to find a compromise. This was not an easy task, and the bill was idle during several weeks of negotiations. Fortunately, the bill never got a hearing in the Senate. However, an amended version of the bill made its way to the State Government Finance Committee in the House, where it ultimately passed and was added as a provision to the State Government Finance Omnibus Bill.
This bill’s provisions were eventually re-assigned to new bills, which left the township bill in limbo. Two weeks before the session ended, the townships came back with a new amendment. This amendment allowed the townships to share the costs of accessible voting equipment within their respective counties, lowering the cost for each of them. Counties would administer elections for the townships by working with the vendor of the accessible voting equipment to see to its programming needs. At this point, an Elections Omnibus Bill was being negotiated by both houses and the Office of the Secretary of State (OSS). The amendment allowing towns to share equipment costs was approved by all parties and added to the bill during the final minutes before it was voted on in the House and Senate.
The Voting Rights Coalition is to be commended for its hard work once again this year on election legislation at the capitol. The coalition’s members fight tirelessly to make sure that good policies, such as the one stated above, are passed into law. In addition to the township issue, the following are other disability-related provisions of the Elections Omnibus Bill:
• Deaf Voters Provisions—provide easier access to ASL interpretation at caucuses and polling places
• Agent Delivery of Ballots—provides that residents of group homes and battered women’s shelters can appoint an agent to deliver absentee ballots
• Creation of Voting Machines Working Group—co-chaired by the Minnesota Disability Law Center and Election Integrity—Minnesota; this group will make recommendations about accessible voting machines
The rest of the provisions include:
• Tribal ID’s—can be used if issued by a federally recognized tribe to register to vote on Election Day
• Approval of HAVA Rules—makes permanent language that governs how to process voter registration applications, includes language clarifying that cell phone bills can be used for same day registration
• Prohibits Deceptive Election Practices—prohibits misleading people about elections
• Safe at Home Address—confidentiality program for survivors of domestic violence
• Paper Ballot Requirement
• Election Judge Transcription—allows election judges to transcribe ballots in case the ballot from the accessible voting machine cannot be read by the counter
• Full Voter Information Bill—allows the OSS, the Campaign Finance Board and public libraries to provide links to candidates’ Web sites
• Post Election Audit—verifies that electronic ballot counters are working accurately
• Anti-Caging Bill—prohibits tactics used by political parties in other states to generate lists of voters to challenge
• Absentee Voting during Pandemic—provides that a voter can vote absentee during situations of quarantine or other threats to public safety
• Financial Disclosure for Local Candidates—insures that those already required to file reports have to submit useful information
• Campaign finance—defines magnets with contact information of an elected official as non-campaign disbursement
To read the bill as passed, refer to the Minnesota State Legislature’s Web site at www.house.leg.state.mn.us
Mai Thor is the voting outreach advocate for the Disability Law Center.