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House elections panel begins work on omnibus bill; vote expected Friday

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

A vote about voting is expected by week’s end.

It’ll be about election administration, teenagers registering to vote, protection of election workers, major political party status and better informing voters who is buying ads.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley), the omnibus elections finance and policy bill, HF1723, as amended, calls for $24.1 million in new General Fund spending in the 2024-25 biennium, an additional $9.5 million over base.

House Elections Finance and Policy Committee 3/29/23

A walkthrough was given to the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday. Amendments are expected to be offered and the package approved Friday.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

Dollars and cents

The proposal calls for $2.6 million in additional funding for the secretary of state’s office, including $1.12 million to support increasing needs of county and municipal administrators, to further support voters, and to respond to increased data practices requests.

Another $461,000 would provide a state requirement for receiving federal Help America Vote Act funds used to improve election security and enhance election-related technology. In addition, the bill would eliminate the legislative requirement of fund use approval, instead sending the money directly to the Office of the Secretary of State.

Other proposed financial changes include:

  • a $2.98 million increase for the campaign finance public subsidy program;
  • $2.38 million would be transferred from the General Fund to a newly created voting operations, technology, and election resources account in the special revenue fund. Dollars would be annually appropriated to counties for expenditures that are directly related to election administration, such as equipment, security-related infrastructure, and a local match for state or federal funds; and
  • $1.14 million more to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, including $440,000 for expanded oversight called for in the bill and $338,000 to maintain current service levels.

A onetime $495,000 request in fiscal year 2023 is included to pay court-ordered attorney’s fees and costs to several plaintiffs involved in litigation that led to a Special Redistricting Panel creation in 2021 and the set of district boundaries order by that panel in 2022. Federal law permits plaintiffs to seek such monies for redistricting litigation.

Elections administration

The bill calls for automatic voter registration; pre-registration to vote for 16- and 17-year-olds; voters could join a permanent absentee voter list for automatic delivery of an absentee ballot; and for an employee to be absent from work without lost wages or other penalty for the needed time to vote during the 46 days prior to an election.

A voter would be permitted to cast a ballot using a live ballot box during the 18 days prior to an election, including weekends, at locations designated by the county auditor or municipal clerk.

The bill would also:

  • establish standards and procedures for multilingual election resources, including translation services at a polling place;
  • allow the option of mail balloting for any town or city with fewer than 400 registered voters regardless of their location in Minnesota;
  • permit use of an electronic signature on a polling place roster;
  • eliminate the three-person limit on the number of voters a person can assist on Election Day;
  • extend the deadline for delivery of an absentee ballot from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day;
  • permit a U.S. Census employee access to multiple-unit residential facilities for official business;
  • require all postsecondary institutions that enroll students accepting state financial aid to prepare a current list of students residing in the institution’s housing or within 10 miles of campus for use in Election Day registration.
  • expand from 20 to 45 days the time in which absentee ballots must be delivered to residents of hospitals and other health care facilities;
  • let students appointed as trainee election judges to continue to serve until age 18;
  • require a county auditor to establish an additional polling place for at least one day on an American Indian reservation, at the request of a federally recognized tribe with a reservation in the county;
  • enacting into state law Minnesota’s support of an interstate compact that would guarantee the presidency to the candidate receiving the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia; and
  • to reduce what proponents refer to as “spoiler candidates,” to qualify for major political party status the bill would increase from 5% to 10% the number of votes a party candidate at the most recent state general election must receive, or submission of signatures equal to 10% of the total number of individuals voting at the most recent state general election.

Candidate, voter, and officials’ protection

Current law permits a candidate to request their address of residence be classified as private data if a candidate certifies safety concerns have led to the filing of a police report or order for protection. The bill would expand the protection based on “reasonable fear” to their safety.

In addition to election administrators, 30,000 poll workers are needed across the state to make Election Day run smoothly.

The bill would prohibit direct or indirect activities — such as force, coercion, violence, restraint, damage, harm, or loss, including loss of employment or economic reprisal — that interfere with an election official’s ability to conduct an election. Intimidating an official with an intent to influence their performance of duties would also be prohibited. The penalty would generally be a gross misdemeanor; however, civil action could also be brought in certain instances.

Additionally, the bill would prohibit:

  • knowingly distributing personal information about an election official, their family or household members without consent if doing so poses an “imminent and serious threat” to their safety;
  • intentionally and physically obstructing an election official’s access to any place where the official performs a duty related to election administration;
  • tampering with the polling place roster, ballot box or voting equipment; and
  • unauthorized access to or tampering with statewide voter registration system.

Other provisions in the bill include:

  • restricting certain types of political activity by foreign-influenced corporations, including promoting or defeating a candidate or ballot question; getting a question placed on a ballot; and contributing to a candidate’s principal campaign committee, political committee, political fund, or party unit;
  • prohibiting contributions by foreign nationals;
  • establishing a system of campaign finance reporting for “electioneering communications,” an advertisement that refers to a clearly identified candidate for state office, is distributed within 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary election for an office sought by that candidate; and is targeted to the relevant electorate;
  • a principal campaign committee, political committee, political fund, or party unit could accept a virtual currency donation, its value would be the fair market value at the time it is donated;
  • designating a candidate’s costs associated with a recount, a transition office for a winning state constitutional office, and repairing or replacing campaign property documented to have been lost, damaged, or stolen as a noncampaign disbursement; and
  • lobbying provisions would be expanded to include all political subdivisions.

***

What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus elections finance and policy bill:


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