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Voter ID plan raises many practical questions

GOP Sen. Scott Newman testifying before a Senate panel
MinnPost photo by James Nord
GOP Sen. Scott Newman testifying recently before a Senate panel about his proposed constitutional amendment to require a photo ID at the polls.

Despite the assurances of Voter ID supporters, the secretary of state’s office remains worried about the many unintended consequences that could result from the proposed constitutional amendment.

Minnesota’s chief election officials are concerned about two key points in the amendment legislation’s updated language:

  • The legal provisions establishing guidelines for absentee and mail-in voting.
  •  And the impact on Election Day registration.

The provisions are unclear enough to effectively end the practices or require expensive workarounds, election officials say.

The amendment could also delay election results in close races for days after the polls close because of new so-called provisional balloting, a federal requirement allowing people who are ineligible to vote because they lack proper documentation to cast a ballot and return later with the correct documentation.

Minnesota and at least three other states don’t currently use provisional ballots required in the federal Help America Vote Act because they allow same-day registration or don’t require voters to register.

Opponents also say the amendment proposal will disenfranchise at-risk voters -- the elderly, the disabled, the poor and students -- who are more likely to vote Democrat.

“You have hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans that would be disenfranchised under this Voter ID bill,” DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said in an interview. “We’re very concerned about the effect it would have on the elections of our state.”

But Voter ID supporters, including most GOP lawmakers, say the measure is critical to maintaining the state’s election integrity. They also dismiss concerns over disenfranchisement.

“Absolutely not true,” said state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, the former secretary of state and House author of the amendment. “It will not disenfranchise anybody.”

How will it work?

There are numerous questions about how a Voter ID system would work.

“I do have a question about what its impact would be on absentee voting, especially for military and overseas voters, and whether this would potentially end absentee voting,” Beth Fraser, the secretary of state’s governmental affairs director, said in an interview.

She said she believes the future of Election Day registration is unclear, even though Republicans have said it’s their intent to preserve the process.

“It would take a lot to have this work,” Fraser said on Feb. 22 after the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee approved the proposed amendment.

Because constitutional amendments are broadly worded, GOP Sen. Scott Newman’s bill leaves the details of implementing Voter ID for later. He reiterated that both the fiscal impact and the policy provisions of a Voter ID bill would have to be decided by next year’s Legislature.

If voters approve the measure in November, lawmakers next session would have to figure out how such a system would work and pass a separate law.

And that’s another problem opponents see with the proposal.

“We just accept in good faith that we’re going to figure all this out [next session]?” DFL Sen. Dick Cohen said at the late-February hearing. “That concerns me.”

Those concerns were paramount at a March 1 Senate Finance Committee meeting where the measure passed along party lines.

The secretary of state’s office is also worried about vague language in the proposed amendment that defines the types of identification required for in-person, absentee and mail-in ballots.

Fraser, for example, is concerned about the requirement that the acceptable forms of identity verification have to be “substantially equivalent” across each type of voting.

Legally, she wonders how checking voters’ faces against IDs at the polls could ever be “substantially equivalent” to receiving unknown voters’ mailed-in “government-issued proof of identity.”

“The vagueness of the proposed constitutional amendment is frustrating,” Fraser said. “It’s unclear exactly what the impact would be on the election system and on Minnesota’s voters.”

The same problems also surfaced for Election Day registration.

Without electronic poll books connected to the Internet at each voting precinct, every same-day registrant – about 500,000 in an average presidential election -- would have to vote by provisional ballot, Fraser said.

In an earlier version of the amendment, Newman's proposal gave voters casting provisional ballots 10 days to return with a photo ID.

“Nobody’s going to know who won any of the elections until at least 10 days or more afterwards,” Fraser said about the requirement. “I know that people are on pins and needles on election night. That feeling is going to last for quite a while if we don’t know for more than 10 days who won anything in Minnesota from governor down to school board.”

And provisional ballots are ineffective, according to Fraser. In a memo to a Senate panel, she wrote that 28 percent of provisional ballots -- more than 600,000 nationwide -- weren’t counted in 2008. Indiana, a state with a strict Voter ID requirement, only counted 13 percent of provisional ballots issued to voters for lack of ID in that election.

Newman said he has taken the 10-day window out of the proposed amendment because he thought it “would be better to leave that up to the Legislature.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie would prefer to see electronic poll books as an alternative to Voter ID. He made a short plug for the proposal at the Feb. 22 hearing, where testimony was limited to the amendment’s cost to the secretary of state’s office.

“I just knew you were going to go there,” committee Chairman Mike Parry said jokingly.

He also posed the solution to the Senate Finance Committee last week because, he said, adding 500,000 ballots into the provisional balloting system could cause additional hang ups.

Wide range of costs

In addition to its effects on Minnesota’s election system, proposed Voter ID changes would also likely incur significant costs at the state and local levels.

On top of the roughly $100,000 Ritchie estimates it would take to put Voter ID on the ballot, new electronic systems, more training for election judges, plus printing and processing new provisional ballots would all inflate election costs.

Last session, a Voter ID bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed would have appropriated at least $3.79 million to launch a public education campaign and to fund free voter ID cards.

Opponents, however, said the measure is likely to cost much more.

Minnesota Common Cause and Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota released a report last March that said House File 210 – a likely starting point for next year’s Voter ID negotiations – would cost the state $84 million over three years.

“There are going to be great costs involved in any of these proposals,” Fraser said, especially for local election officials, which would likely cause property tax hikes.

Newman pushed off discussion of cost until 2013 because of provisions in his bill that require lawmakers to later iron out the specifics of the proposal.

“We don’t really have any solid fiscal note, and it is speculation,” Senate Finance Chairwoman Claire Robling said before the amendment passed onto the Senate Rules and Administration Committee last week.

People and party

Opponents of Voter ID remind lawmakers that the measure affects more than election officials. It has the potential to severely restrict vulnerable people’s right to vote.

Groups ranging from AARP to TakeAction Minnesota, a liberal activist group, say it will harm at-risk communities.

The secretary of state’s office has identified more than 200,000 registered voters who may not have a photo ID or lack an up-to-date address. More than 200,000 voters who use mail or absentee ballots during presidential elections also could be affected.

Many of these voters are elderly, students, poor or disabled. The U.S. Department of Justice found South Carolina’s Voter ID law discriminatory because minority voters there are 20 percent less likely to have a photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Liberal political activists also believe Voter ID will hurt get-out-the-vote efforts.

“It would dramatically change how parties and campaigns would have to conduct their business,” said the DFL’s Martin. “We’d be dealing with a new and different way of voting, which is much more prohibitive.”

Pat Shortridge, chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, did not return multiple requests for comment.

About 30 states require an ID at the polls, and half of them require or request a photograph.

Concerns with the process

The Voter ID amendment in Minnesota -- loosely based on Indiana’s law -- is evolving, leaving opponents and the public scrambling to catch up.

Newman has amended the legislation at least twice. Some lawmakers at the Feb. 22 hearing complainted that limited testimony is preventing the bill from receiving a true public airing.

“This is the State Government Committee, and this is the place to hear this thoroughly,” said Sen. Barb Goodwin, a Democrat from Columbia Heights. “I know there are other people that would like to talk on this bill, and if we’re putting constitutional amendments on the ballot because we want to hear from the people, then let’s start that process, here, in this room.”

DFL members also raised concerns that Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Claire Robling wouldn’t allow sufficient testimony when the amendment came before her panel on March 1.

Republicans said the bill received enough testimony during its first hearing, which lasted about five hours. They also said that recent changes aren’t substantive enough to warrant more public appraisal.

“I’ve simply tried to add language which will put folks’ minds at ease that I’m not trying to eliminate absentee balloting or same-day registration,” Newman said after the Feb. 22 hearing. “I would hope that this will solve the problem.”

The House has not heard Kiffmeyer’s version of the amendment since last session. She re-introduced the measure as a ballot question after Dayton vetoed the bill because it didn’t have broad bipartisan support.

Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci reaffirmed that the governor “believes that any election law needs to be bipartisan.”

Kiffmeyer is working to align her bill with Newman’s.

“I’m just fine with the way it’s going,” Kiffmeyer said of her bill’s progress this session. “We’re moving along just fine.”

Court challenges

Newman said he is confident his amendment’s constitutionality will hold up in court because he based it on Indiana’s successful law.

But acting Indiana Secretary of State Jerry Bonnet offered a word of caution to lawmakers.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Indiana law in 2008 on its face, but it’s still vulnerable to an “as applied” challenge if opponents can bring forward a voter who experienced significant difficulty voting because of the law.

“I don’t take that to mean that the law, any type of Photo ID law in any state, is going to pass muster,” Bonnet said. “It depends on what provisions they make to deal with people who have difficulty [voting].

“It’s going to be challenged, I think, in other states,” he added.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least six states – including Indiana – have been in litigation over Voter ID.

Carolyn Jackson, lobbying coordinator for the ACLU of Minnesota, said Newman’s bill opens the state up to a “cottage industry” of voting lawsuits.

“This is not a matter which is settled law,” she said. “There will be lawsuits.”

Political theatrics

Along with dire predictions of voter fraud and the ruin of Minnesota’s election system, advocates and opponents of Voter ID have laid on the theatrics to emphasize their points since the session began.

TakeAction Minnesota attempted to tie money from banking executives to lawmakers who supported the measure, but under questioning from reporters, Executive Director Dan McGrath had to back off his claim that the leaders of Minnesota’s largest banks had a specific Voter ID agenda.

The American Civil Liberties Union in mid-February offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could find a case of voter impersonation fraud over the past decade that might have been stopped with a Voter ID law.

GOP lawmakers and such groups as Minnesota Majority have challenged opponents to bring forward even one person who would actually be disenfranchised by the measure.

Conflict also erupted recently when TakeAction and several DFL lawmakers condemned as racist a pro-Voter ID website maintained by Minnesota Majority.

It featured a black man dressed in prison grab to depict a felon voter and a man dressed as a mariachi to portray an illegal immigrant.

“These images are racial-profiling of voters at its ugliest, designed to drive fear and racial division throughout Minnesota in order to help pass a photo ID amendment at the Legislature and on the fall ballot,” TakeAction’s McGrath said in a statement. “They’re wrong and they should be removed from public view immediately.”

Later that day, someone slightly revised the images and added a caption that read: “Politically Correct Version for the Hypersensitive.”

But all the emotional responses raise the question: Does this issue really deserve all the attention?

Not according to Humphrey School of Public Affairs elections expert Doug Chapin, who said both political parties are spending too much time worrying about the potential causes and effects of Voter ID.

“Frequently, Voter ID ends up consuming all the air in the room, a lot of which might be better spent on other things,” he said.

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Comments (38)

Wait...

So our proposed constitutional amendment is loosely based on legislation in a state that only counts 13% of provisional ballots, the provisional ballots that are supposed to make those of use worried about disenfranchisement happy??? Ridiculous. Even the 28% average not counted nation-wide is a problem--why in the world would they choose the state with the most miserable record? Unless it really is about political warfare.

Let the people decide

the law and then let the handsomely paid bureaucrats figure out how to make it work. It's not their role to debate it, it's their role to implement it.

This is a corollary of the

This is a corollary of the Republican "so what if we're incompetent, we're against government anyway" maxim.

Who will decide

If this proposal passes as a constituional amendment, it won't be bureaucrats that decide, it will be politicians. These same politicians that are steadfastly refusing to give details, including the cost of implementation, in committee hearings.

Why is this necessary?

Amid all the noise and finger-pointing, I’m still waiting for *any* solid evidence that a proposed Constitutional Amendment which will – regardless of the views of its supporters and detractors – apparently cost the state a significant amount of money to implement is actually necessary.

I’m an old guy with a driver’s license that has my picture on it, and I’m registered to vote, so I can probably deal with whatever lunacy comes my way from the legislature, but the more relevant question is: Why should I – or anyone – have to? Where’s the evidence of voter fraud significant enough to merit a Constitutional Amendment that addresses the issue specifically? Millions of ballots were cast in Minnesota in 2010. Were there tens of thousands of fraudulent ballots? A few thousand? A few hundred? A few dozen? A few?

Without that evidence, Doug Chapin from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs has the most relevant observation: “Frequently, Voter ID ends up consuming all the air in the room, a lot of which might be better spent on other things…” Lacking the evidence to show the necessity and efficacy of the proposed amendment, it looks to me like there are *many* things that might be more productive use of legislative time and energy. This strikes me as a "solution" to a problem that doesn't exist.

Fine. We know how you feel

So you'll be one of the 30% who vote against it. We get it. Isn't democracy wonderful?

You Nailed it!

But because it is republicans no one will be listening. Minnesota is just part of a very orchestrated national republican campaign. They have no interest in working for everyone, only their narrow social engineering projects.

Every dollar wasted is a

Every dollar wasted is a dollar that will eventually starve the beast. In any case once the laws are enacted the voting public will be overwhelmingly conservative, white, and anti-government, so they'll vote to close the ID issuing agency owing to government waste. Then nobody will be able to vote and we can all enjoy a 30 year single party rule until the revolution.

Agreeing with Ray Schoch

In answering the question on 'where is the fraud', Senator Newman sited a decades old Indiana case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, going as far as to quote Justice Stephens' published statements on the case that were specific to that particular case. Sen. Newman then took it upon himself to equate that to the possiblity of the same event occurring in the State of Minnesota. Another example of attempting to amend the constitution with a solution looking for a problem.

Same day registration and absentee ballots are under attack.

“I’ve simply tried to add language which will put folks’ minds at ease that I’m not trying to eliminate absentee balloting or same-day registration,”

Don't believe it for a minute. The hidden agenda here is targeting vouchers, same day, absentee, seniors, students, anyone who's moved recently, group home residents, women staying in battered women shelters, and a variety of other voters to the tune of hundreds of thousands of votes, while preventing NOT ONE fraudulent vote.

And for those who complain about government inefficiency all the time, what make you think adding another completely unnecessary and expensive layer of complexity on top the existing system is a good idea if the government can't do anything right?

And another obvious question is not being asked here, which is exactly how is this going got work? Supporters show nifty videos of card swipers hooked up to laptops. In the real world on an election day millions of votes are cast at thousands of polling places and stuff happens. What if a laptop card swiper crashes, or you lose your internet connection?

It's very telling

that the voter ID law is on the wish list of the American Legislative Exchange Council (which is funded by 300 of the wealthiest corporate entities in U.S). This ties directly into the fact that voter ID is being simultaneously pushed in Republican-majority state legislatures all over the country. And what do you know, Mary Kiffmeyer is the chairperson of the Minnesota legislative delegation to ALEC.

It is Necessary to keep Republicans in Power

The only jobs, jobs, jobs they're worried about is their own.

This is part of a multi-front attack on Democratic Party voters all aimed at keeping the Republicans in power.

#1 - Attack and eliminate Unions --they tend to vote Democratic (Can you blame them?)
#2 - Make it harder for people who lean Democrat to vote --Voter registration laws
#3 - Redistricting to entrench Republican legislatures
#4 - Allow the wealthy and corporations to give unlimited money to campaigns --the wealthy lean Republican
#5 - Empower the base with wedge issues --gay marriage, abortion, religious issues, etc.

Its perfectly legal. The only problem I see with this strategy is that they are destroying the legitimacy of our election process.

Ask Putin how that's going these days.

Inverse Effect

Ironically, the actual effect of this master plan is that the GOP is losing credibility among moderates. People ultimately abhor extremism, no matter side of the spectrum it comes from. The social conservatives have turned a sensible choice like middle-of-the-road businessman Romney into a veritable schizophrenic while propelling extremists like Santorum and Gingrich into the limelight. It has gotten so bad that even when traditional Republican strong-suits like religious freedom and immigration come into play, they quickly morph into misogyny and xenophobia. They should be leading with the economy, stupid, but instead they're leading with their chin.

A solution looking for a problem

There is absolutely no evidence Minnesota has any significant voter fraud that would justify a $100,000 expenditure. For the republicans who profess they want smaller government and don't want to pay for anything, this goes counter to their own wishes. How hypocritical is that? They can't convince voters they have the right answers for voters so the next best thing they can do is effectively take away their voting rights. The republican party does not have a conscience. If you have ever wondered who their real leader is, it is without a doubt Russ Limbaugh. Did you notice the politicians weak to nonexistent repudiation of Limbaugh and his outrageous comments last week. Russ only apologized because his sponsors were running away from him. When the republicans says something contrary to Limbaugh they apologize to him. Republicans are out rightly afraid of Limbaugh. Talk about weak politicians. They can't decide the right path on their own. they have to sign pledges to make sure they don't have to think. This November will be an excellent time for the voters to clean the republican house and put politicians in office who will work for the whole state.

The Numbers (Like Our Votes) Don't Lie

18% of elderly citizens do not have a government-issued photo ID
15% of voters earning less than $35,000 a year do not have a photo ID
18% of citizens 18-24 do not have a government-issued ID with their current address and name
10% of voters with disabilities do not have a photo ID
25% of African-American citizens of voting age do not have a current, government-issued ID
0.0009% of votes may involve voter fraud

Need I say more.

Legitimacy?

I just went and changed the address on my driver's liscense last week. At no point did I need to verify that I was actually living at my new address, or that I was no longer living at my former address. I now have both copies (one with the yellow papers) that are both technically legal identifications.

What's to stop me from doing the same thing just before the election then voting twice. What's to stop me from filing for a new liscense in a hotly-contested congressional district just to influence the vote without living there? (I know, it's illegal)

Again, this is a solution looking for a problem.

Good point

The law says you have to be a citizen to vote but you don't have to be a citizen to get a drivers license. We'll have to make special voting ID cards only issuable to citizens. Thanks for bringing that up.

So, Mr. Tester

You are saying that we will not "link" with the DMV because illegals and felons have Driver's Licenses. Are we going to have a voter database with a separate ID? Will this mean that everyone has to have a new voter ID? If so, I think the $40 million cost might be low. This is more than killing an ant with a sledgehammer. I hope the public wakes up to this folly before the November election.

Police state

More from the party of less government.

Mr. Chapin of the Humphrey Institute

seems to be dismissing this question without understanding the true and dire effects it would have on the constitutional right of the elderly, disabledpoor, student and homeless populations to vote.

This topic needs lots of public education so that voters who might vote for the amendment because it sounds on the surface as though it makes sense could understand that it is far from harmless.

Political Proclamations

So, it is proclaimed by one that voter ID absolutely will disenfranchise potential voters and by another that it absolutely will not. We hear proclamations of all kinds from both sides and we seem to let them stand without question, just wafting about in the air so that we can believe whatever we hear. Isn't there anybody out there in media land who is willing to insist on some proof for proclamations? No one? I keep wanting to ask the proclaimers, "Where's your evidence of that statement?" I know; it takes time to do that. All I have, as a voter, is time to consider the evidence, not the proclamations.

US Supreme Court

In 2008, the US Supreme Court found that Indiana's ID law, upon which ours is based, does not disenfranchise voters.

That is a fact; anything else is spin.

No spin.

Indiana may have a problem. Indiana is not Minnesota. Where is your proof Minnesota has a problem? You need a problem before you need a solution. I think republicans have been drinking their own Kool-Aid and now they can't tell the difference between fact and fiction. There are many worthwhile problems they could be working on but they prefer only the partisan wedge issues, which will not fix a thing. Desperation is not pretty as the republicans continue to destroy their own party.

Not exactly

The US Supreme Court said, ON ITS FACE, the law did not disenfranchise voters. However, it hasn't been tested in a court of law since the law went into place. The US Supreme Court acknowledged that, if the practical effect is disenfranchisement, there may be a problem. Considering that there are 87% of provisional votes not being counted at all, I'd say that's a problem.

Lots of stories out there . . . . .

on what happens to folks in other states that have enacted this sort of legislation. Here's one:

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/12/05/381885/wisconsin-voter-id-la...

And remember - they're wanting to put this amendment through without defining specifically WHAT will constitute acceptable Voter ID or what kind of documentation will be required to get it. They just want to leave those insignificant details for later . . . . . .

I find it hard to vote for a

I find it hard to vote for a system that will be decided upon in the future. I have a hard time trusting the legislature with an open mandate. I would like to see the process clear before I cast a ballot.

A couple of things about

A couple of things about these laws that make me uneasy. They do not make me a confirmed opponent, but they make me nervous. First is cost. For such laws not to constitute an undue burden, states cannot charge people for photo-IDs: otherwise it constitutes a de facto poll tax. States also have to spend time and money making sure voters are aware of the new laws. Indiana found that implementing its photo-ID law cost $1.3m, with an additional $2.2m in revenue loss. A cost study in Missouri concerned a proposed photo-ID law forecast costs of $6m the first year and $4m recurring. According to a Brennan Center report, around 11% of voters nationally lack government-issued photo IDs. A few mil here and a few mil there may not sound like much, but when state budgets are tight it those costs add up. Second, a related point: voter fraud is rare and these laws would be largely ineffective against it. Far from preserving the integrity of the electoral process, one could argue that these laws imperil it by stoking fears of a rare crime and using it to cast doubt on an election's outcome

http://brennan.3cdn.net/2f0860fb73fd559359_zzm6bhnld.pdf

After this is passed, the next RECOUNT process...

...should be real entertaining. And expensive.

Technology

OK, I know the amendment is a bad, GOP partisan plan. It is poorly defined, vague, misleading, and just kicks the can down the road so somebody else has to deal with the details after the next election....

But could we make it work? What if there were a statewide campaign to make sure as many people as possbile got a free state ID, if they did not have one already? And then, hook the polls into the internet using common credt card reading technology. Make your selections, swipe your ID, and the votes would be tallied at the precinct where your ID address is. If the address is not current, you would have a year to update it. Simple.

And not only will

Every vote be counted, but every person identified with each vote. Scan your ID, select your vote, be targeted by the other side to be convinced to vote otherwise next time, or at least be convinced that you ought not vote at all. I asked my state senator about this, he said he'd look into the risk of votes being identifiable. I haven't heard back. It's time to bug him, again, I think.

Technology

It looks real slick in the videos, but the reality is that right now we have breakdowns on election day, and polling places have to cope with those with manual counts etc. You have to remember, we have thousands of polling places all over the state on an election day, and they are not staffed by IT professionals, they are staffed by volunteers from all walks of life. If a laptop or card swipe breaks down, what's the backup? If the database these ID's are keyed to is corrupted by data entry errors or a variety of other problems, how does the voting continue?

So the answer to your question: "can we make it work" is: "sure, but not perfectly" The question then becomes: "how do you cope with breakdowns?" The fact is proponents have not yet even described exactly how it's going to work, yet alone how we'll cope with failures when they arise.

Let people vote how/where they want

No need for all those thousands of places to vote (because you might be personally identified). Just use your Voter ID to vote anywhere (the idea behind "voter ID" = "proof of identify" = national ID card). Funny how they do NOT want to use something comparable to a Social Security Number (unique, national, every legal resident has one). The ID is the key. Consequences? There is a major incentive to create thousands of FAKE "voter ID" documents to give to fake voters so they can "vote" in order to to swing key districts their way.

The Voter ID will be Free?

It has been stated that 'local' government units would pay for these Voter ID's. There is anothe unfunded mandate to the Cities & Counties. The other point would be the first law suit. Being that this is called a 'Voter ID' and not a 'Photo ID' requirement, and being that my drivers license is my preference to use as my 'Voter ID', I request that my Drivers License be paid for by the same mechanism as proposed to pay for Voter ID. All or nothing.

Why Drivers License?

As noted above, a Minnesota Drivers License doesn't guarantee that one is a citizen. However my passport does. Will Minnesota accept my passport in order to vote? And what about people who moved to Minnesota from states or countries that did not issue birth certificates when they were born? I know that Tennesee wasn't issuing them as late at 1951.

Passport?

Steve, the answer to question is simply "no". You will have to present a MN issued photo ID because in theory that's linked to your address. No other photo ID will be considered valid.