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Among the changes found in Minnesota’s new election legislation package signed into law on Friday by Democrat Gov. Tim Walz is a gross misdemeanor penalty for those who spread what officials can deem misinformation about elections.
Gross misdemeanors are considered harsher than regular misdemeanors and carry jail time of up to one year and fines.
According to the bill, civil action can be brought against anyone who violates this law within 60 days of an election.
Under subhead two of the section titled “Intimidation and interference with the voting process; penalties,” the law is called “Deceptive practices,” which prohibits information to be transmitted that “(1)intends to impede or prevent another person from exercising the right to vote; and (2) knows to be materially false.”
The law also holds anyone accountable who is found to have assisted one who engages in what the bill calls election interference.
The law alludes to those who contend that the 2020 election between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden was compromised by a variety of methods that included mail-in voting.
Historically, American citizens have frequently questioned the results of the election; however, the intent of this legislation potentially criminalizes that speech.
A man who posted memes about the Hillary Clinton campaign during the 2016 presidential election was found guilty in March of one charge of conspiring against the right to vote.
Progressive groups have long advocated for House File 3, called the “Democracy for the People Act,” which also makes mail-in voting more accessible by removing the process of mailing a request form for a ballot, instead allowing voters to get a ballot sent to their home before each election without having to apply by mail.
“Minnesota consistently leads the nation in voter turnout, and we plan to keep it that way,” said Walz in a press release. “We know that the more people vote, the more representative our state government can be. This bill will strengthen our democracy, allow future voters to get engaged early, and keep our campaigns honest and fair.”
The bill also gives convicted felons the right to vote unless incarcerated.
“If the individual is later incarcerated for the same offense, the individual’s civil right to vote is lost only during the period of incarceration,” the bill states.
Automatic Voter Registration
The bill also implements automatic voter registration (AVR) that registers voters not only when they renew their driver’s licenses but also when they submit an application for state health insurance.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, AVR is the process by which people are automatically registered to vote as a result of interacting with participating government agencies who transfer information on submitted applications to election officials for them to create or update one’s voter registration.
Since Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993 which initiated AVR through the process of applying for a new or renewing a driver’s license, 22 states have been categorized as NVRA states, beginning with Oregon in January 2016.
The bill also allows for 16- and 17-year-old people to pre-register to vote through an application process that would have them eligible to vote when they turn 18.
In addition, the bill lays strict ground rules for disclosure in campaign finance to create a checks and balance system for corporate influence on elections, according to the language of the bill.
“The fact that Minnesota has some of the highest voter turnout in America year after year after year is not an accident,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon. “It’s not a coincidence. It’s not something in the water. Minnesotans value voting. Period. That is a fact. And that shows up in the laws that we pass and in the reforms that we embrace.”
The bill passed the House 70-75 and the Senate 34-33, both on party lines.
The Republican Party of Minnesota shared a 2019 interview in which Walz stated he wouldn’t sign an election-related bill unless it were bipartisan.
“That should be the bar,” Walz said.
According to CBS News, Republican state Rep. Paul Torkelson said Walz’s signing violates the state tradition of governors only signing bipartisan election bills, adding that the legislation itself misses the mark in assuring election integrity.
“We know that many of our citizens are questioning the validity and the authenticity of our elections,” Torkelson said. “The work we do here should increase their confidence that our elections are being run fairly. And we don’t believe that anything in this bill increases that public confidence.”
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