A voter fills out a ballot in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance is suing the state over a new law barring people from distributing misinformation in the run-up to elections.
The group calls itself an election integrity watchdog that seeks to increase voter participation, but has repeatedly taken legal action against the secretary of state and counties over election laws intended to make it easier to vote.
The latest election law they’re targeting, effective June 15, makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly spread false information with the intent to impede or prevent people from voting if issued within 60 days of an election.
The law doesn’t target policy disputes or claims about candidates, but, rather, dirty tricks like spreading lies about how and when to vote and who is eligible, which have long been employed to suppress voting, often in Black neighborhoods.
It’s now a gross misdemeanor — punishable by up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine — to spread false information about the “time, place or manner of holding an election”; restrictions on voter eligibility; and threats to physical safety associated with voting.
The provision was part of the Democracy for the People Act, which aims to strengthen and protect voting rights by enacting automatic voter registration; allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote; and protecting election workers from intimidation and harassment.
James V. F. Dickey, counsel at the Upper Midwest Law Center, a conservative public interest law firm, told the Reformer in April the law was likely to face a legal challenge.
Now Dickey is representing the voters alliance in the lawsuit, which claims people could face criminal and civil penalties for saying things like, “Felons still serving their sentences do not have a right to vote in Minnesota,” which also happens to be the argument his firm is making in the other lawsuit.
The misinformation lawsuit contends that people who believe and continue to say felons still serving sentences don’t have the right to vote could reasonably fear prosecution for doing so, and fear retaliation from felons bringing lawsuits against them.
“Any person of ordinary firmness would think twice before speaking on this issue,” the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit claims the law targets political and campaign speech and gives too much power to the attorney general, county attorneys and “any person injured.”
Secretary of State Steve Simon has said he thinks the law has enough safeguards to protect First Amendment rights because a prosecutor would have to prove the intent to impede someone from voting, which is a high bar.
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