Minn. Court Orders Online Voter Registration Shut Down

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Voter registration.

Minnesota Voters Alliance, et al., v. State of Minnesota and Secretary of State Mark Richie. MN voter registration

On September 26, 2013, the Minnesota Secretary of State's office began an online voter registration tool on its website. Using this website, an eligible Minnesota voter was able to register to vote. Up until this point, with some exceptions, a voter was required to physically complete a paper form. But with the new website, voters could register electronically. To do so, the voter must furnish both an e-mail address and a Minnesota driver's license or state ID card number, or the last four digits of his or her social security number. The voter would then "sign" by checking a box and typing their name into an online form. The website was maintained by state employees and with state funds. The petitioners brought this quo warranto proceeding, alleging that the website was a misuse of state funds. The Court, Judge John H. Guthmann, first held that the petitioners had standing as taxpayers to bring the action under McKee v. Likins, 261 N.W.2d 566 (Minn. 1977), since they challenged a specific disbursement of money, alleging that it was wrongful.

Turning to the merits, the court first noted that the voter registration statutes did not specifically authorize an online registration system. Minnesota statute 201.054 specifies only three methods. For paper registrations, Minnesota Statute 201.071 specifies things such as the size and weight of the form. The statute goes on to specify where the form can be submitted "in person or by mail."

However, the Secretary of State argued that he had authority under the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA), Minnesota Statutes Chapter 325L. This act is designed to "facilitate and promote commerce and governmental transactions by validating and authorizing the use of electronic records and electronic signatures." The act applies to all electronic records and signatures after 2000. But the court noted that even though the act permits electronic records, it does not mandate their use. The court took note of the provision that the Act does not apply if the record must be posted or displayed in the manner specified by another law. The court focused on the provision of the voter registration law that the form must be delivered in person or by U.S. mail. For that reason, the voter registration law, and not UETA, applied.

For these reasons, the court agreed with the petitioners that the Secretary of State had exceeded his authority in accpeting registrations through the website. The court ordered the website shut down by Midnight on April 29, and held that registrations accepted after that date would be void. It did hold, however, that the order did not invalidate any registrations accepted prior to that time.

(Editor's note: At 5:04 PM on the 28th, the website appeared to still be online at https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/VoterRegistration/VoterRegistrationStep1.aspx. No appeal of the case appears to have been filed on April 28, according to the Minnesota appellate courts website. A paper filing, however, might not yet be shown on the online listing.)

No. 62-CV-13-7718 (Ramsey County Apr. 28, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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