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Lawmakers agree on voting change, differ elsewhere

Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, answers a question during a legislative breakfast hosted by the League of Women Voters of Woodbury and Cottage Grove Saturday at River Oaks Golf Course. Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, looks on. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)1 / 3
Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, takes part in a legislative breakfast hosted by the League of Women Voters of Woodbury and Cottage Grove Saturday at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove. Also pictured is Rep. JoAnn Ward (center) and Sen. Susan Kent, both Woodbury Democrats. Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, also participated. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)2 / 3
Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, discusses the 2017 legislative session as Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, looks on during a League of Women Voters of Woodbury and Cottage Grove legislative breakfast Saturday, Jan. 7, at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)3 / 3

Local lawmakers say they would support efforts to allow voters to physically cast their ballot more than a week ahead of Election Day.

State law allows counties to give voters the option of casting an absentee ballot in person within seven days of the election. Legislators said the process was popular in the 2016 election in Washington County and the county saved taxpayer money by not having to process as many absentee ballots the traditional way. They agreed it should be expanded, suggesting a 14-day window.

It's another way to get more people voting, said Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park.

"Whatever we can do (to increase participation), I'm for," Schoen said.

Some want an even wider window.

"Fourteen days is not enough as well," said Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, who worked on the in-person absentee voting legislation. She said there is more integrity when the voter is the last to touch the ballot.

Sen. Susan Kent and Rep. JoAnn Ward, both Woodbury DFLers, also indicated support for expanded in-person absentee voting. Ward also said the state needs to consider investing in new voting machines as most around the state are nearing the end of their functional life.

Voting technology, such as that used by people with visual impairment or other disabilities, also needs to be reviewed, Fenton added.

Schoen said the state should look at ways to deploy teams of election workers with a vote-counting machine to locations such as senior living complexes where residents may have difficulty getting to polling places.

Election-related proposals were among issues the lawmakers discussed during a meeting with the League of Women Voters of Woodbury and Cottage Grove Saturday, Jan. 7, at River Oaks Golf Course in Woodbury. Freshman GOP Reps. Tony Jurgens of Cottage Grove and Keith Franke of St. Paul Park did not attend.

The priority of the 2017 legislative session is to set a new two-year state budget. The dynamics have changed since the last budget-setting session as Republicans gained control of the Senate in the November election. They also control the House.

Schoen, a new member of the Senate minority, said the "smokescreen" of blaming Democrats last year is gone for the GOP.

"It's on Republicans to come up with a plan this year to show Minnesotans they can govern," he said, adding that all four caucuses have members who will not be in "lockstep" with their leadership.

Attention will be on the Senate, where Republicans have only a one-vote majority.

"It's going to be difficult," Schoen said.

Fenton said Republicans do control the Legislature, but as chief executive, Gov. Mark Dayton is a Democrat. She said Dayton and his staff should participate more during the legislative process and provide input early in the session.

Fenton said she does not want lawmakers to focus on bills they know Dayton will not support.

"I prefer that we work on things that we know absolutely there's a good chance the governor will sign," she said.

Kent said Dayton's staff has been "highly engaged" in the past, but she also agreed with Fenton on working on bills with broad support: "The more we can agree on, the better."

Ward advocated for "prudent, wise use" of state resources and emphasized early intervention in a variety of areas, such as early childhood and family education.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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