ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Republicans are crying foul after Secretary of State Steve Simon signed two stipulation agreements with organizations who sued the state over its absentee ballot election laws.

At a Wednesday, June 17, news conference and in written statements, state Republicans accused Simon of subverting the legislative process through the agreements, and said the Legislature should be the governing body to make changes to election processes. Through the agreements, Simon said the state will accept absentee ballots even if they do not have the legally required witness signature, and if they arrive within two days after Minnesota's Aug. 11 primary (as long as they are postmarked on primary day).

The stipulation agreements come after advocates, lawmakers and Simon himself have raised concerns over voting accessibility amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hoping to prevent crowded voting precincts and hours-long waits like neighboring Wisconsin saw in May, the two organizations that sued Minnesota — the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Educational Fund and the League of Women Voters — said Minnesota's signature and deadline requirements put extra impediments in the way of Minnesotans who choose to vote by mail.

State Republicans disagree. Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said in a Wednesday statement that, "There is a reason a witness signature is required when voting by absentee ballot — to prevent fraud."

"It is unconscionable that Secretary Simon and Governor Walz have chosen to go around the legislature - which is currently in session - to change a law that will remove these necessary safeguards, opening up our elections to rampant fraud in our upcoming election," Carnahan continued.

At a Wednesday morning news conference, former Secretary of State and current state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said the state "has a long history of bipartisan election laws to prevent this kind of blatantly partisan decision making."

"Voters expect us to work together to create a fair and equal access voting process, not to play tricks through the courts in order to circumvent the legislature," she said.

At a committee hearing in April, Simon urged the Legislature to put more resources toward absentee voting and to "treat statewide elections in Minnesota as a public health issue." Legislators in May speedily and overwhelmingly passed a bill opening up federal funding to help boost sanitation and safety practices, but some advocates said the legislation didn't go far enough.

A judge is scheduled to review the agreements at a Thursday hearing.