Minnesota’s tradition of one-stop voting must be protected | Opinion

November 15, 2021 5:59 am

Voters walk into a polling station at the Minnesota National Guard Minneapolis armory Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Let’s talk about one-stop voting — the idea that anyone meeting the fundamental eligibility criteria for voting can do so with only a single interaction with the government.

Minnesota’s tradition of one-stop voting predates the state’s founding: The 1851 territorial legislature provided that all who swore to their eligibility and were not proven ineligible could vote.

Today, we call it election-day registration, though that would have seemed strange in the 1850s when registration in advance of the election didn’t yet exist.

At any rate, we should focus not on the mechanics of registration but on the underlying objective: that one-stop voting remains universally available.

One-stop voting is important because additional interactions would threaten not only the overall size of our electorate (currently best in the nation) but also the degree to which it represents our citizenry.

Barriers to voting impact people differently, depending on such factors as how many jobs they work, how they get around and whether they can pay someone else to care for their children. Worse, proposals to eliminate one-stop voting would add government interactions only for some voters.

For example, those who have voted before at the same address could bypass new barriers to registration, and those with driver’s licenses wouldn’t need to get a new voter ID. Those exemptions seem natural, but they would skew the electorate. And a skewed electorate isn’t going to make decisions that work for all its citizens.

Even though one-stop voting is a long-standing, democracy-enhancing Minnesota tradition, it is endangered. For more than a decade, legislators have sought to trade away one-stop voting for such chimerical goals as increased voter confidence. (Just look at how confident voters are in more restrictive states like Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.) Sadly, responsibility for defending our tradition against these incursions has been left to a single party.

Bills introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that chip away at one-stop voting have been varied. Some add barriers before voting like obtaining an ID, while others add barriers after voting like validating a provisional ballot. Indeed, a bill passed by the Senate this May (SF 173) offered voters a choice: corroborate your residence either before or after voting — you just can’t do it when voting.

And make no mistake: even though this was framed as a photo ID bill, it was more about residence than about identity. Applicants for the voter ID proposed in the bill would have needed to present stronger proof of residence than for an ordinary driver’s license.

But beyond all these details, the proposals agree on the fundamental premise: One-stop voting should only be available to some eligible voters, not all of them.

Rather than get into the weeds of individual proposals, Minnesotans should keep in mind the fundamental principle. Voting should remain a one-stop option for all who meet the requirements of age, citizenship and residency, provided they have not been barred from voting by a court.

A bipartisan consensus around this tradition would allow both parties to compete on their differing approaches to economic competitiveness, human well-being and ordered liberty.

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Max Hailperin
Max Hailperin

Max Hailperin is a professor emeritus of mathematics, computer science, and statistics at Gustavus Adolphus College. He earned his Ph.D. at Stanford University and S.B. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since 2010, he has specialized in the intersection between election technology and election policy, and in 2014, he was awarded the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Medallion Award “in recognition of his service and contributions to election-related technology and legislation.”