On a 39-28 party-line vote, the Democratic-controlled Minnesota State Senate approved a bill expanding voting rights for residents on Monday. The measure, sponsored by Democrat Katie Sieben (Newport), would extend early voting to 15 days before an election, expand mail-in balloting to small communities, and permit convicted felons to vote immediately after they are released from prison.
Democrats argued that changing the law would not only make it easier for Minnesotans to vote, but also that the provisions of the bill would save the state money as well. Republicans, however, were unpersuaded and they refused to support the measure. Nevertheless, the bill sailed through the Democratic-controlled Senate though its fate remains unclear.
Democratic Governor Mark Dayton has intimated that he would prefer to sign a bi-partisan election bill, but Republicans appear unwilling to support any changes that would make it easier for Minnesota residents to vote. Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the nation in both the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections. In 2012, 76.1 percent of Minnesota’s voting eligible population cast ballots. In 2008, 79 percent voted. The state allows same-day registration, which makes voting easier than in states that have an earlier registration deadline.
Even with the highest turnout in the country, Minnesota Democrats are working to make the process even easier for residents, especially those in small towns. They are also working to extend the franchise to recently released felons who have served their time in prison. That provision is known as the “North Dakota model,” because Minnesota’s next door neighbor, North Dakota, allows felons to vote immediately upon being released from prison. A dozen other U.S. states besides North Dakota also allow newly released felons to vote.
Republicans offer many reasons why they oppose making voting easier, but the most obvious reason is a political one. In 2012, Barack Obama carried 17 of the 20 states that had the highest voter turnout. When people vote in large numbers, Democrats typically do well. Minnesota Democrats are helping their cause by making voting easier. However, they are also doing it because, in a democratic society, voting participation is an essential element of representative government.
There is no reason to make voting difficult if you trust the will of the people. Minnesota Democrats apparently trust the will of the people, while Republicans would rather make it more difficult for people to vote. Given the policies they advocate, it isn’t hard to figure out why.