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The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor doesn't plan to investigate a move from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to implement a new online voter registration tool, but a House Research report raises questions about the legality of the new program.

Paper Trail: House Research questions legality of new online voter registration tool

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie  (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor doesn’t plan to investigate a move by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to implement a new online voter registration tool, but a House Research report raises questions about the legality of the new program.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles responded via letter on Thursday to a complaint by top Republican legislative leadership that Ritchie had implemented the new program — “unilaterally” and under “dubious” authority — after the legislative session ended. The new program allows voters with valid identification to register to vote online, and lets already-registered voters update their information. Hundreds of people have gone online to use the new tool since it launched at the end of September.

In his response, Nobles says he will not investigate the matter because the report from House Research is a “thorough and independent assessment” of the new program. In the report, House Research staffer Matt Gehring questions Ritchie’s authority to establish the new system, saying “implementing online voter registration through [a] legislative enactment is the more sound legal approach to this type of policy change.”

“I think the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over election legislation will be well served by using Mr. Gehring’s analysis and conclusion as a basis for legislative oversight of the Secretary of State’s actions,” Nobles wrote.

Nobles also echoed GOP concerns about possible data breaches in the new system. Republicans pointed to recent issues ahead of the launch of the new state-run health insurance exchange, MNsure, when a now-terminated employee inadvertently released the private information of 1,500 insurance brokers.

Nobles said he would consider investigating data security in the new online registration system after he completes several other similar audits, including his office’s investigation of the MNsure data breach.

In a statement, Ritchie said the new system has modernized Minnesota’s voter registration process and was “built with safety and security at top-of-mind.” “This tool is saving costs, minimizing inaccurate records and reflects the integrity of the state’s strong voting system,” he said.

Read Nobles’ full letter and the House Research report here.

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