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Minnesota Democrats unveil bill to expand voter access

January 22, 2021 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Democrats are aiming to expand election protections and access to the ballot box after an election that featured disinformation and doubt about the results.

The bill, with voting rights lawyer and freshman Democrat Rep. Emma Greenman of Minneapolis as chief author, has a host of measures aimed at increasing voter access. The bill includes restoring the right to vote to convicted felons after being released from prison, mailing absentee ballots to voters and boosting the number of ballot drop boxes statewide, among other measures.

The legislation would protect election officials from harassment and intimidation, and increase transparency in campaign spending by requiring outside groups to disclose donors. It would also permanently remove the requirement that mail-in ballots be signed by a witness — a measure approved by a judge as part of an agreement last year by Secretary of State Steve Simon to resolve a lawsuit brought by citizens concerned about voting during the pandemic.

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The legislation has no Republican co-authors; A GOP majority in the Senate lists election integrity — not access — as a priority this legislative session.

Those efforts include a bill that would require voters to provide photo identification to register to vote and cast a ballot while reinstating the witness requirement. The bill would establish a free voter identification card for those who lack government-issued photo ID.

“What we’ve seen in the other body, at least with the majority, is a continuing tendency to fan the flames of disinformation and some conspiracies,” Greenman said during a news conference Thursday. “I am looking for partners and I am looking for all good-faith efforts ... but I don’t think that can stop us from standing up for Minnesota voters.”

Sen. Scott Newman of Hutchinson, the chief author of the Senate bill, said he believes election integrity is “extremely important,” because voters who lose faith in the election process believe their vote doesn’t count and stay home from the ballot box. Newman declined to comment on the legislation from House members but pushed back on criticism that the voter ID bill would disenfranchise voters, saying the bill would do the opposite.

“I simply do not accept this notion that anyone is going to be disenfranchised because of this additional tool that would be required to protect the integrity of our voting process,” he said. “If, in fact, there is a problem in the integrity of our voting process, those who lose faith in that process, they’re the ones who are disenfranchised.”

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.