Twin Cities landlords no longer are required to provide new tenants with voter registration information after a judge found the ordinances unconstitutional.
In 2016, Minneapolis lawmakers passed a measure requiring landlords to provide city-approved voter registration information to all new tenants. In 2018, St. Paul followed suit. The penalties for failure to comply included loss of a rental license and being charged with a misdemeanor.
Lawmakers say that the ordinances were intended to address low voter participation among renters, especially younger people and minorities, and were not politically motivated. Landlords opposed both city ordinances.
Some joined with the Minnesota Voters Alliance to challenge the laws in court.
The judge found no compelling reason to burden landlords with handing out voter registration.This decision was based in part on the failure of local lawmakers to provide any statistical information that proved the ordinances would increase voter registration or voter participation, or that tenants found the service beneficial.
Likewise, there was no evidence that similar measures have been effective in the past. There also was no indication that other methods of dissemination — like mailing the flyers to resident addresses, sending out volunteers to deliver the information, or holding voter registration drives in public places — were less effective ways of achieving higher voter turnout.
The landlords argued that the ordinances were an overreach that violated their free speech rights. At one point in the analysis, the judge ironically concluded that the requirement to provide voter registration information only to new tenants was a government “underreach”, not an overreach. The court found this undermined the lawmakers’ argument that the ordinances were necessary to meet the goal of increasing voter participation.
Landlords incurred no cost in disseminating the required information. However, the court found that landlords did incur a burden. That burden was the impingement on their free speech, by forcing them to represent the cities’ voter registration initiatives, especially over the landlords’ objections.
As a result, both the St. Paul and the Minneapolis ordinances were found to be unconstitutional, and both cities are enjoined from enforcing these rules.
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