See more of the story

The Democratic leader of the Minnesota Senate lashed out at Republican members this week for trying to end the practice of remote voting while a DFL senator is undergoing cancer treatment.

GOP state Sen. Steve Drazkowski proposed a motion to eliminate remote and proxy voting during a rules committee meeting last week. Four years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, legislators are still allowed to cast votes remotely under certain circumstances.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, criticized the timing of the GOP effort to end remote voting. She noted that DFL Sen. Kari Dziedzic has been participating remotely at times while being treated for cancer.

"Her commitment to serve the people of Minnesota during this difficult time should be applauded, not dismissed, and not fought through cynical rulemaking," Murphy said of Dziedzic.

Democrats hold a 34-33 majority in the Minnesota Senate. If remote voting were eliminated and Dziedzic or another Democrat couldn't participate in person, the chamber could deadlock at 33-33.

Murphy called the timing of the GOP's effort "either careless or cruel" and said Republican senators have used remote voting when needed, too.

"I would never have tried to deprive Senator Andrew Lang's district from representation, even for one day, because of his service in the National Guard, and I would never have prevented Senator Steve Drazkowski from participating when he needed to travel to be with an ailing relative," Murphy said in a statement.

Minnesota was one of 11 states last year to allow remote participation on both the House and Senate floors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said his caucus wants to verify that senators who vote remotely are doing so of their own accord. Under the current rules, senators participating remotely must designate another member to announce their vote on the floor. That differs from how remote voting is handled in the Minnesota House, where members call in to declare their votes via phone.

"There's no check, there's no audits on those votes," Johnson said, adding there should be a way to prove that a senator's remote vote matches what's announced on their behalf.

As for whether senators should cease remote voting entirely, Johnson said it's a proposal that will require further debate. For now, Senate Republicans are focused on verifying the votes, he said.

"We don't want either party gaming that system," Johnson said.