Whether it’s good policy or not, the public deserves better than the chaos ending this session

If you felt like a deer in headlights as you watched what ensued the last couple of weeks of the 2024 legislative session, chances are you were tracking or participating in the end of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session.

The legislature has been meeting for four months to tackle the issues important to us. The usual divided government Minnesota’s legislative branch is under was not a challenge this biennium; Democrats have had full reign for the past two years.  Legislative leaders had plenty of time to build consensus, inform the public, and hold floor sessions in a manner that was transparent and worked to build the public’s trust in the integrity of the process.  

Instead of putting us ahead of self and partisan interests, legislative leaders turned to partisan gamesmanship to act on all kinds of important legislation.  In the last 20 minutes of session, a mega-ginormous omnibus bill over 1400 pages long, front and back, was voted off the House and Senate floors in a manner that leaves the public wondering about the integrity of the process and the Legislative institution. It begs the question, how are Minnesotans represented within the chaos?

Behaving this way dampens the good policy that many hardworking legislators managed to pass this session. In the voting and election space, the legislature passed three major policies, and took a few baby steps in the right direction on others.

Ending prison gerrymandering, the practice of counting those serving prison time where they are incarcerated was a major victory for fair districts and democracy.  For purposes of the census and redistricting these Minnesotans will now be counted at their last home address, a community they are likely to return to after serving their time.

Passing a Minnesota Voting Rights Act restores protections for voters who are discriminated against or intimidated while voting, after the federal Voting Rights Act has been eroded. However, the work is only partly done. We must return next session and follow the federal law’s direction on preclearance and setting up a statewide database as a central public repository for election and demographic data with the goal of fostering transparent, evidence-based practices in election administration.

Enacting rules to combat the rise of AI deepfakes in our elections is also important as this new technology threatens to spread misinformation.

As for the baby steps: allowing one day polling places at some colleges and universities is good but leaves most students of color and Indigenous students out; allowing voters to describe a physical location when registering to vote removes barriers for voters on Tribal lands and those who are unhoused; and expanding access to translated voting materials bring us closer to greater parity among voters in Minnesota.

No matter who is in charge in 2025, the first step taken should be in making sure trust is restored in the legislative process by centering chamber rules on maximizing transparency, limiting opportunity for exploitation of rules to favor partisan interests and disruptions to the integrity of the process, while also centering the work on constituency’s best interests. Partisan gamesmanship invites erosion of trust and good faith among legislators. Minnesota has been the North Star of civic engagement and voter-friendly laws. What took place on the legislative floors fails to reflect the values we hold so dear as Minnesotans. We must do better.

Our electeds are entrusted with the vote of the people. It is our vote that bestows political power on them. A healthy, transparent and accountable democracy means everyone has a voice; even those that differ.   

 Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera is the Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota. Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.