ST. PAUL — There’s another political fight brewing at the Capitol over federal election security funding.
Republican Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer says lawmakers should change the state’s decades-old same-day voter registration rules before officials get $7.4 million in election security money earmarked for Minnesota from the federal 2020 Help America Vote Act.
Under Kiffmeyer’s proposal, voters who register at the same time they vote would have to use a provisional ballot. She says voters who register when they cast a ballot are not subject to the same verification as those who register in advance.
“I don’t know why anybody would be opposed to equal treatment of voters,” said Kiffmeyer, of Big Lake, who served two terms as secretary of state.
Democrats argue that same-day registrants already have to show identification and prove where they live. They’re opposed to tying federal election security funds to policy changes.
“Election security should never be used as a bargaining chip,” Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to the Senate government and elections committee that Kiffmeyer leads. Lawmakers on the committee debated Kiffmeyer’s proposal at a hearing Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Simon, who oversees the state’s elections, says changing the current system will disenfranchise voters. “Minnesotans expect us to protect their right to vote, not put it at risk,” he wrote.
Simon noted that the federal Help America Vote Act purposely exempts Minnesota from using provisional ballots because other protections are in place. Provisional ballots are typically used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility.
At Tuesday’s elections committee hearing, Julie Hansen, of the Minnesota Association of County Officials, questioned whether the money and effort Kiffmeyer’s proposals would require was worth it. She said fewer than one-third of same-day registrants are first-time voters and most are updating existing registrations.
“I don’t know that we are addressing a problem that exists,” Hansen said. “You already need an ID to register to vote.”
This is not the first time Minnesota Democrats and Republicans have battled over federal election security funds. It took nearly two legislative sessions for lawmakers to approve the first batch of $6 million in federal election security money.
Congress approved the money — more than $805 million nationwide since 2018 — after federal investigations found Russia worked to influence the 2016 election. The funds are subject to a local match and are supposed to be used by states to improve election oversight and boost cybersecurity.
Kiffmeyer’s bill tying the money to changes in same-day registration system faces long odds of becoming law. Gov. Tim Walz opposes the idea and it does not have any Democratic support in the House or Senate.
But it shows that Democrats and Republicans are not done fighting over federal election security funding.