Federal Court Strikes Down Minneapolis and St. Paul Voter Registration Requirement for Landlords
Apparently the Minnesota Voters Alliance hasn’t grown tired of all the winning yet. The MVA has compiled an impressive list of legal victories in its mission of insuring the integrity of Minnesota elections–and just added another notch to its holster in federal court.
In 2018 a case brought by the MVA resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a state law regulating political apparel at the polls. In addition, MVA has prevailed at the district and appeals court levels in a case Secretary of State Steve Simon has appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in a desperate attempt to prevent release of data that may expose thousands of ineligible voters on the state’s election rolls.
Now a federal judge has handed the voters rights grassroots group another important win in a voter registration case that got the attention of local media and the Courthouse News Service.
A group of landlords and a conservative election watchdog group in Minnesota’s Twin Cities prevailed Monday in their challenge against two city ordinances that required them to provide voter registration information to their tenants.
U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, an Obama appointee, ruled that the ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the state’s two largest cities, unconstitutionally compel free speech. The judge permanently enjoined both cities from enforcing the ordinances.
Both of the ordinances required landlords to distribute flyers to their new tenants with information – approved by the cities and distributed by city clerks – on how and where the tenants could register to vote. That requirement, opponents complained, was burdensome and pushed the ideological objectives of the city governments.
Besides finding the ordinances unconstitutional, Judge Wright noted there’s no indication the requirement was actually effective in registering voters and questioned why current registration efforts weren’t good enough.
“There is nothing in the record that addresses the actual or purported effectiveness of Defendants’ ordinances,” Wright wrote. “Defendants provide no evidence as to the percentage of tenants who receive the voter-registration flyers, as to how many of those renters actually review the flyers or find them helpful, or that the flyers have had any actual effect on voter participation among renters. Nor is there anecdotal evidence that similar efforts elsewhere have resulted in higher voter participation among renters.”
The cities additionally did not demonstrate that existing remedies, such as holding voter registration events, mailing the information or asking willing distributors to give out the pamphlets, were not sufficient.
In the end, you could probably make the case that this was as much about Minneapolis and St. Paul elected officials making life a little more difficult for a group of business owners they love to pick on as much as registering potential voters.