Steve Simon wants automatic voter registration, right to vote for people on parole/probation

By: - January 9, 2023 3:17 pm

Secretary of State Steve Simon outlines his priorities, including automatic voter registration. Photo by Grace Deng/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon announced his legislative priorities on Monday, including automatic voter registration, protections for election workers and restoring the right to vote for anyone convicted of a felony offense and still on probation or parole.

“I will work with anyone of any political affiliation, from any background, from any part of our state to protect and strengthen and defend the freedom to vote,” said Simon, a Democrat recently elected to his third term. 

Republicans — newly in the minority in both chambers of the Legislature — are already balking at some DFL election ideas. They say any changes to election law should muster bipartisan majorities, which was a condition of former DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

“The fact that my colleagues across the aisle are more interested in passing their hyper-partisan wish lists than they are in finding common ground on our elections is a disservice to all voters,” said state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch.* 

If enacted, automatic voter registration would likely start with registration when obtaining a driver’s license, but Simon said they hope to expand automatic registration to other interactions between the public and government, such as obtaining hunting and fishing licenses. 

The Office of Secretary of State estimates that automatic voter registration would add or update 450,000 voter registrations each year. Restoring voting rights to people once convicted of a felony would restore access to the polls for 66,000 Minnesotans. 

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration programs, and 21 other states allow voting rights to be automatically restored after release from incarceration.

Simon brought advocates who were formerly incarcerated to his announcement, including Elizer Darris, co-executive director of the Minnesota Freedom Fund, who can’t vote even though he said he pays his taxes and is civically engaged. 

“Each year, every single year, while I’m helping to drive thousands to the polls, I’m not able to hold up that little red sticker that says, ‘I voted,’” Darris said. 

Simon is also calling for civil and criminal penalties for anyone who intimidates an election official or “intentionally interferes with the working of an election.” Since the 2020 election and widespread misinformation about voter fraud, election workers have experienced increased threats and violence

Simon listed “real Minnesota examples” he’s heard of just in the past month, including instances of doxxing, threatening phone calls and “physically accosting” an election worker at their workplace. Minnesota has more than 30,000 election workers on Election Day. 

“It’s not always pretty to have someone swear at you or shake a fist at you,” Simon said. “But I signed up for this gig, so I know that’s part of the deal. No one is looking to touch that First Amendment activity. But when you go beyond that, you start really genuinely harassing people…that’s when we need to augment our laws.” 

Simon’s other priorities are pre-registration to vote for 16 and 17 year olds; making it easier for local governments to get reimbursement for presidential nominee primary costs; and removing restrictions from federal funding for election security — Simon said the funds were “held hostage” by the Minnesota state Senate in 2018. 

Several bills related to Simon’s priorities have already been introduced by DFL lawmakers. Bills to allow pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds and to restore formerly incarcerated people’s right to vote get their first hearing Wednesday. 

“I hope and expect that we’re gonna get bipartisan support for all of these measures,” Simon said. 

*Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story attributed a quote to a Republican senator in error. The Reformer regrets the error. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.