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Voters to decide on photo ID

Published (4/6/2012)
By Nick Busse
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Lawmakers have spent years debating the pros and cons of requiring photo identification for voting. The debate is now over for the Legislature; the voters themselves will have the final say.

On April 4, the House and Senate gave the final OK to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require all voters in the state to prove their identity using an approved form of photo ID. Minnesotans will be asked to vote on the measure on this November’s ballot.

The Legislature passed a statutory voter ID requirement in 2011, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. Putting the question on the ballot allows the Legislature to bypass the governor’s desk.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), who sponsors the law with Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), said it’s fitting that an issue so crucial to the integrity of Minnesota’s election system be put directly to the voters.

“This is a momentous day here in Minnesota that we listened to the people, and we give the people the opportunity to vote on this constitutional amendment, as the constitution gives the right to do so,” she said.

It will be the second constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot: last year, lawmakers passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman.

Passing a photo ID requirement has long been a top priority for Republican lawmakers, who say it’s needed to ensure the integrity of the state’s elections. DFLers argue the state’s election system is already secure, and that there is no evidence to suggest that voter identity fraud is a problem in Minnesota. They say a photo ID requirement would make voting more difficult for certain groups, like poor people and the elderly.

In keeping with the bill’s history as a partisan lighting rod, the final House and Senate votes landed squarely along party lines. No DFLers voted for the bill, and only one Republican, Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), voted against it.

The bitterly partisan track record of the bill was noted by many DFLers, who argued that changes to the state’s founding document should only be made with bipartisan support.

“We will have placed, for the first time in our history, a purely, 100 percent partisan constitutional amendment on the ballot and started a political arms race when it comes to constitutional amendments. That’s going to be the legacy of this bill,” said Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park).

Opponents also echoed criticisms made by the Office of the Secretary of State, saying the language of the proposed amendment is unclear and could make same-day registration and absentee voting illegal. Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) said those claims are patently false, and that photo ID opponents have been deliberately spreading misinformation. He noted that other states with photo ID laws have no documented instances of voter disenfranchisement.

“I think this generalized concept that this is somehow going to result in chaos is simply a scare tactic,” Downey said.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) said the bill’s opponents have tried to unnecessarily complicate what is ultimately a straightforward issue.

“The issue is a very, very simple issue: Are you who you say you are when you go to vote? It’s a pretty simple issue and it’s a pretty simple question,” Dean said. He called the bill a “common sense piece of legislation that half of the other states are already doing.”

The question that will appear on the ballot reads as follows:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

A majority of voters would have to approve the amendment in order for it to take effect. The next Legislature would then be tasked with passing an enabling law spelling out the details of how the photo ID requirement would be implemented.

HF2738*/ SF1577/CH167

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