Pawlenty Vetoes Automatic Registration Bill

by , Adam Fogel // Published May 22, 2009
Yesterday, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed the 21st Century Voter Registration Law, which would have automatically registered Minnesotans to vote when applying for a driver's license, instruction permit or identification card. With little fanfare or attention, Gov. Pawlenty struck down HF1053/SF0660--a bill that would have created a "streamlined procedure [that] would have been convenient for voters, reduced long lines at polling places, reduced the number of voters registering on Election Day by more than 70 percent and saved money for local governments," according to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. In a letter to Secretary Ritchie and legislative leaders, Gov. Pawlenty explained his veto by saying that he believes "registration to vote should be a voluntary, intentional act."

Unlike most democracies around the world, the United States has a self-initiated, opt-in system of voter registration that leads to nearly a third of eligible voters being kept off the voter rolls. About nine states--including Minnesota--have same day or election day registration, but having unregistered voters show up on Election Day slows the process down and has the potential to create confusion. Having citizens automatically added to the rolls (when getting their driver's license, for example), speeds up the process on Election Day and reduces the number of voters needing to vote by provisional ballot. Having an opportunity to correct or update registration information on Election Day is a commonsense reform when paired with automatic and permanent voter registration. Gov. Pawlenty's veto will accomplish nothing other than create additional burdens on local election officials and increase costs for local governments.

Arguing that an automatic registration system is somehow "involuntary," as Gov. Pawlenty does in his letter, goes against the basic premise of the opt-out system Sec. Ritchie supports and the Minnesota legislature sent to the governor. Either the governor is being intentionally deceptive or he did not read the bill carefully:

5.5 Subdivision 1. Automatic registration. An individual who properly completes 5.6an application for a new or renewed Minnesota driver's license, instruction permit, or 5.7identification card, and who is eligible to vote under section 201.014, must be registered to 5.8vote as provided in this section, unless the applicant declines to be registered.

The bold section clearly shows that automatically registered voters are not "involuntarily" registered, but are always given the option to opt-out of the process. The question to ask is this: why did Gov. Pawlenty really veto this bill? It's unclear from his explanation that he actually understood the impact of the bill or if he took the time to read the bill at all. This veto may simply be a knee-jerk reaction to a bill that would modernize Minnesota's voter registration system, expand the electorate and increase political participation. Whatever Gov. Pawlenty's motivation is for vetoing this bill, he should reconsider his position and embrace the concept of automatic voter registration.