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How — and why — I made my decision on the voting amendment

Cary Griffith

When I first read about Minnesota’s voter ID constitutional amendment I thought, no brainer. Most of us already have photo IDs, and given the voting hangovers some of us still nurse after Bush v. Gore or Franken v. Coleman, any law that could ensure more certitude in the voting process was good. I felt pretty certain I’d be voting “yes!”

I just needed answers to two simple questions: How much will implementing this new law cost, and how much voting fraud happens in Minnesota?

I emailed my representative, Kurt Bills, for more information.

Kurt promptly responded:

$1.5 mil for the free ID is projected. I think the actual cost will be lower though.

During 2008, the last presidential election year 38,000 postal verification cards were returned as such person or address.

For more information he referred me to and referenced “a felon study found at the Minnesota Majority web site.”

When I sought Kurt’s clarification on the 38,000 returned cards (were all these voter fraud?), he never responded, so I consulted his other sources.

'Tip of the iceberg'

ProtectMyVote declared “Minnesota now leads the nation in convictions for voter fraud with 200 recent convictions of ineligible voters.” It claimed these were “just the tip of the iceberg.”

The second site referenced a study that identified 1,099 felons who cast votes in the 2008 election. It then turned these votes over to county prosecutors, which resulted in 177 convictions. There weren’t more convictions, it claimed, because in order to convict the voters had to know they were ineligible. also declared the cost of implementing the new law was significantly higher than Kurt Bills' estimate: “between $10 and $12 million initially and $2-3 million per election cycle …,” while additional costs could drive the overall expense to “$40 million.”

Since the only certain numbers I’d seen on Minnesota voting fraud were extremely low, I forwarded Kurt Bills' response to the Secretary of State’s (SOS) office, seeking clarification. Claire Wilson, voter outreach director for SOS sent me an answer the length of a fortnight. The Cliff Notes version: After examining 41,785 returned cards, the SOS found only a handful that weren’t returned for legitimate reasons, which it sent to county auditors who are “required to determine if the voter was eligible to vote.” The less than handful the auditors still questioned were turned over to county attorneys for “further investigation and possible prosecution.”

An election-integrity survey

Following the 2008 election, Citizens for Election Integrity surveyed county attorneys regarding convictions for election fraud. That survey provided some sobering perspectives.

  1. It is a felony to commit voter fraud in Minnesota and our County Attorneys must investigate all instances of real or perceived voter fraud.
  2. In 2008 there were 1,531 voting fraud investigations that resulted in 26 convictions.
  3. One of the reasons noted for so few fraud convictions, particularly among those identified as felons, were “false positives, because the individual either had a gross misdemeanor or had successfully completed probation and had their civil rights restored prior to voting … .”

Point three gave me another reason the Minnesota Majority’s 1,099 investigated felons only resulted in 177 convictions; perhaps they were misidentified or they had done their time and their voting rights were restored?

Finally, and perhaps most damning, the voter ID law will do nothing to prevent felons (and other ineligible voters) from acquiring a photo ID and voting.

The upshot

In summary, my investigation revealed:

  1. Implementing the voter ID law will cost taxpayers somewhere between $12 million and $40 million and will create another government solution that must be fed an additional $2 million to $3 million every election cycle.
  2. Minnesota already has in place an excellent system – involving state and local elected officials – for identifying and prosecuting what little election fraud exists.
  3. The voter ID system will do nothing to prevent election fraud in the future.
  4. Voting fraud is a felony in Minnesota, an already serious deterrent.

My thought: Spend the $12 million to $40 million on roads, bridges, education and Minnesota’s more pressing needs.

I will be voting “No!” on the voter ID amendment, and I hope my fellow Minnesotans do, too.

Cary Griffith, of Rosemount, is the author of “Opening Goliath” and “Lost in the Wild.”


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Comments (38)

Very nicely said. I find it

Very nicely said. I find it quite remarkable that there hasn't been a larger outcry about this, broadly speaking. I'm especially struck by how many Republican legislators come right out and say that they want to make it hard for people to vote. I can't think of any reasonable (by which I mean morally and philosophically legitimate) justification for this desire. You want people to appreciate their right to vote? Make it easier, so they can actually do it.

But when tactics turn from encouraging one's own voters to vote and setting up legal barriers to prevent the other side from doing so, that is something much nastier—particularly when those most directly impacted by these legal barriers were similarly barred from voting by "legal" barriers for most of this country's history. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, demography will make this sort of strategy unworkable for electoral reasons. Until then, we ought to recognize it for what it is: deliberate voter suppression, and a betrayal of democracy.

It's amusing

and instructive that everyone just naturally assumes that anyone in this society who is too incompetent, felonious or otherwise dishonest to possess a legal form of photo ID would of course be voting democrat.

Even though the polls indicate that political affiliation seems to be evenly divided, I guess the reason republicans and independents favor this amendment overwhelmingly is that we're confident that our voters don't cheat and we won't be losing any votes as a result of people having to prove who they are.

Regardless how the final vote goes, this campaign was a valuable civic exercise because it exposed the political parties and what they believe they need in order to win elections and that it's a valid role of government to ensure that only legal votes should be counted and counted once.

Wow, total failure.

The ability to comply with this requirement has nothing to do with being "incompetent, felonious or ortherwise dishonest" (and as the above notes, this measure does nothing to prevent felons from getting IDs anyway). The people who will struggle to comply with this are people who work two jobs or exceptionally long hours, and can't get around to picking one up during business hours; who don't have cars or an easy way to get to the office; or to whom English is a second or third language, so that they might have trouble understanding the requirements.

And yes, the majority of THOSE people--much like the vast majority of doctors, lawyers, academics and other educated folk--tend to vote Democrat. The proponents of this amendment are well aware of that, since discouraging them from voting is the only plausible purpose of the amendment. That's simply all it does.

"Provisional Ballots"

Mr. Griffith, I believe that, by concentrating only on the label our "conservative" friends gave this amendment, you missed the other, far more invisible, but far more insidious issue: provisional ballots.

The use of provisional ballots, which are estimated to be 10% of votes that would be cast in every election, gives future election officials massive weasel room to decide which provisional ballots will be counted and from where, which grants the ability of election officials at whatever level these decisions end up being made, to swing most Minnesota elections whichever way they want.

This would give elections officials the ability to do EXACTLY what the Republicans were trying to claim the Democrats had done in the Franken/Coleman race - play games with counting votes in order to be sure their candidate always wins (which, as was completely documented in the recount of that race, NEVER actually happened, despite Mr. Fund's delusional rantings).

From what I have read, those who are given only provisional ballots on election day, are required to return to an office within a short time window to provide additional documentation in order to have their vote counted.

Although the claim is that poverty-stricken voters are not being disenfranchised by this amendment because they'll be allowed to cast provisional ballots, the time and expense required to procure that documentation and return it to wherever they are required to return it to, guarantees (at least) four very damaging consequences:

1) the likelihood that impoverished "provisional ballot" voters will ever have their votes counted is severely reduced if not completely eliminated

2) the actual results of any election will not be able to be determined until after the window for providing required provisional ballot documentation has closed

3) during that provisional ballot documentation window, there will be massive opportunity for games to be played with those provisional ballots - games that damage the integrity, perhaps even the verifiability of our state election process and, in the case of recounts, makes it nearly impossible to determine an accurate outcome (all of which was claimed but proven never to have happened in Franken/Coleman)

4) considering provisional ballots in a recount would necessitate that the names and addresses provided in supporting documents for provisional ballots would reveal the identity of particular voters and how they voted which is ANATHEMA to our secret ballot system - it's even possible that the courts would rule that provisional ballots could not be considered in a recount because doing so would violate the secret ballot, a situation which would, in reality, make accurate recounts impossible.

What we have in this amendment is not an effort to bring honesty and integrity to Minnesota's election process (we already have those things), rather, we have an attempt to open a Pandora's Box of dishonesty and DISintegrity which would forever compromise the way elections in Minnesota are run and even whether recounts could be accurately conducted.

Oh, so true !!

" exposed the political parties and what they believe they need in order to win elections..."


In order to win elections, the right-wingers seem to feel they need to jeopardize the franchise of huge numbers of voters - even military serving overseas.

Then, they have to paper over their motives with high-minded frou frou.

Yes, this debate certainly cast the motives of the parties in clear relief.


I highly approve of thoughtful consideration being given important issues. That means investigating it from both pro and con angles.

Cary's response from pro-amendment groups featured hard numbers. That fact enabled him to detect a disparity between estimates of cost...very useful information, indeed.

The SoS response featured enigmatic buzzwords. The SOS found only a *handful* that weren’t returned for legitimate reasons. How many is a "handful"? And why couldn't a definite count be provided? Then we have the "less than handful"; how much less than an undefined handful? Two fingers?

Finally, returned verifications so not need to indicate fraud to be valid concerns. If, for whatever reason, a person does not live where he, or she says they do, their vote is invalid.

I do agree with Cary's observation that voting fraud is a felony in Minnesota, constituting a serious deterrent. Adding the requirement that would-be election cheats present a hard document, which can be used as hard evidence in a criminal prosecution will undeniably cause some to give their intent a more careful thinking through.

"I didn't know" is the standard defense given in most of the cases that have been brought to date; staring a prosecutor in the eye while he's holding up a false ID is going to be a pretty hard deal.

I'm sure that in time, Cary will come to appreciate the security our election integrity law is providing.

Jumping to conclusions

Wouldn't a returned verification card most likely mean the person moved (or passed away) since the last election? It's legal to move (or die) after an election.

I'll repeat what I said in a previous comment:

People seem to be quite confused about the registration process and the voting process being separate entities. Providing Photo ID every time I vote is essentially re-registering for every election. I would be in favor of requiring photo ID for the registration process (or better yet, just removing "vouching"). However, providing photo ID to vote when I'm already registered is an unnecessary bureaucratic burden that costs money, makes the voting process less efficient and introduces opportunities for error and manipulation while adding no benefit.

Anyone who claims to be a fan of smaller, more efficient government AND the Voter ID amendment is a hypocrite at best and a liar at worst.

Dan, where one lives

Dan, where one lives determines where and for whom one votes. If you've moved, but vote in the precinct of your old address, your vote is most likely invalid.

Your assertion that "providing Photo ID every time I vote is essentially re-registering for every election" is pretty silly, but even if it was valid, if it takes 30 seconds to "re-register" is that too much to ask to ensure the integrity of the vote you cast?


You are presuming that a person who moved necessarily votes as though they hadn't. That isn't the case. They typically show up at the new polling place with proof of the new residence, which is required now. Just because they moved doesn't make their vote invalid IF they vote where their new residence requires. And, since there are far fewer convictions than suspected acts of fraud, it appears that that's exactly what people do. The system works just fine as it is, and costs a lot less. The supposed reasons behind this amendment really are just bogeymen under the bed, designed to make you afraid to behave rationally.

Right decision, wrong numbers

It's true that we have a really verification process in MN and the postal verification cards are integral step in that process but the numbers given here are wildly inflated. According to a 2010 report compiled by the SOS for the legislature in 2010 399 postal verification cards were returned as undeliverable. Prior to that, the SOS didn't keep track of the numbers. It's true that a very small number of cases are forwarded for criminal investigation. I think the author has missed something in his cliff note summary, but his general conclusion is correct.

Protectmyvote and mnmajority have never explained where they get their numbers, they appear to have just made them up and Bills has simply passed along their fabricated numbers.

Please, the adjective is

Please, the adjective is "Democratic" with a capital "D."

I don't know why Republican commentators (or shall I follow Mr. Tester's example and call them "republic commentators"?) keep insisting that the DFL won the last Senatorial and gubernatorial races by cheating when the recount was observed by their own party and there were third party candidates in both races. (The Independence Party was a factor in both races and took more votes from Republicans than from Democrats, something that Republican commentators keep forgetting--or purposely ignoring.)

I don't know whether Republican and Independent voters cheat (probably not), but I do know that Republican *officials* in a couple of states have been trying to influence the outcomes of elections through means such as overly zealous purges of "felons," most of whom turn out not to be felons but merely have similar names or live at an address where a felon formerly lived; attempts to extend voting hours in Republican-leaning precincts and not in Democratic-leaning precincts (that happened just recently in Ohio), sending less voting equipment to Democratic-leaning precincts than to Republican-leaning precincts so that Democratic voters have to stand in longer lines, changing voting locations or precinct boundaries in Democratic-leaning areas without notifying the residents, and most notoriously, so-called "black box" voting machines manufactured by Republican-owned companies that refuse to let anyone examine their software. (I have had one programming course in my life, and I can think up two algorithms for undetectable cheating. What could a real programmer do?) These machines have produced results wildly at odd with the exit polls or switched results as the voter watched helplessly, and the beauty of it, from a cheater's point of view, is that the computer will give the same result from the same program each time, so no recount is possible.

I'm going to vote "no" on the Voter ID bill, and anyone who believes that even people who disagree with you have the right to vote ought to do the same.

"recount was observed by their own party"

Careful counting of fraudulently cast ballots, along with those that appeared right out of thin air; perhaps you've heard the anecdote "Closing the barn door after the horses are gone"? How about "hiding the evidence in plain sight"?

Either works, your call.

"Ballots appeared out of thin air"?

If there were really as many instances of "ballots appearing out of thin air," as opposed to fantasies spun by the demagogues of talk radio to give the listeners their daily does of rage, why didn't the Republican officials object?

They did, and we are...

"the secretary of state’s voter files did not match the number of ballots certified by the election canvassing board. There were approximately 40,000 more ballots counted than voter histories to account for them."

I do aver that ensuring election integrity also depends on having a Secretary of State who puts it ahead of the political agenda of the people that fund his campaign. This amendment doesn't cover that, but we'll take care of it next time that office is up for a vote.

Its funny how you keep

Its funny how you keep bringing up the same stuff after it has repeatedly pointed out to you that the claims have been thoroughly debunked. Your own personal etch a sketch?

It's funny how you keep

It's funny how you keep saying these claims have been "debunked" after it has been repeatedly pointed out to you that nothing of the sort has occurred, Sean.

Seeing that most of Mn

Seeing that most of Mn Majority's claims keep getting shown to be utter and complete garbage you may want to find a reputable source:

Remember their claims about "Thousands of felons voting". Umm yeah, total garbage.

With all due respect, Sean

"most" & "complete garbage" are just as hyperbolic as MN Majority initial estimate. Seems you have something in common!

The bigger question we should be asking is why does a private group have to pick up a job that is clearly the responsibility of the Sec. of State?

If MN Majority hadn't taken an interest, leftists would have had a basis for claiming "there is *no* fraud"; thankfully that has been proved to be hyperbole as well.

First of all, Mr. Swift

do you have a source other than a right-wing website, and second, why are you not addressing the well-documented cases of voter suppression, mostly carried out by Republican officials in other states?


first you said "why didn't the Republican officials object?" And after I provided proof they did and are objecting, you respond with "do you have a source other than a right-wing website".

With all due respect, do you care to make up your mind?

I'm not familiar with any "well-documented cases of voter suppression", so I'd appreciate any links you have.

Republicans did object

But judges disagreed, and so they legally lost the arguments. And those issues were on ballot admissions, not voter fraud, and which was not alleged. Complex, but true.

Then you haven't been following the news in the past few days

about the controversy in Ohio about extended polling hours in some precincts and not in others. (It was eventually resolved in favor of equal hours in all precincts.)

It isn't about the photo

The objection isn't to presenting a photo ID confirming that the person asking for a ballot is in fact the person who is registered. The objection is that the ID (a) must be VALID -- i.e., not expired, even if accurate; (b) must be GOVERNMENT ISSUED -- i.e., not issued by an employer, college, or other legitimate entity; and (c) must ALSO contain the voter's CURRENT address. I have worked for many years as an election judge in a precinct with many college students and immigrant citizens, and many, many of these voters move frequently -- two or three times a year or more for the students. It is onerous for these people to have to update their government issued IDs every time they move. Even if the fee for the ID is waived, collecting the underlying documents required to obtain one (e.g., birth certificate) is an undue burden.

The proponents of the restrictive voter ID measures clearly believe that most of those who will be disenfranchised -- the young, the poor, and the elderly -- are more likely to vote for DFL candidates than Republican ones. Whether this is true or not time will tell. But since there is NO evidence of widespread voter "fraud" to justify the restriction, the only logical explanation for imposing the ID requirements is to disallow votes of eligible voters who the proponents believe will vote against them. Any argument that the ID requirement is necessary to preserve the "integrity" of elections is baloney.

A very good point

I've worked as a poll watcher and seen too that many who don't have IDs are students who need to move often.

And think that you make a very good point that the difficulty is having an ID with a current address. The proponents of the amendment assume everyone has an ID because you need one to cash a check. You may need an ID with a picture that shows you are who you say you are. But many people who need to move often may not have an ID with a CURRENT address. I know I've used a drivers license from a prior address after moving for a while. Requiring the ID with the current address imposes a burden on voting. And it's a burden that's not needed to address any real problem.

Then there are the homeless

The homeless (currently) have the right to vote as well, even if their "place of residence" is "under a bridge":

Our Tax $ @ work

Lets see: ~ $2-3,000,000/177~ $11,299.44-16949.15, per questionable vote. and the point is, we spend this no matter what, on top of the initial $12-40M and it still won't stop some bozo with a fake ID?
Got to hand it to those Republicans they sure know how to invest in "Bureaucracy" and much BIGGER GOVERNMENT intrusion into our lives.
The truth she hurts!

Government Interference in our Lives

it's funny that this type of intrusive legislation is coming from Republicans. It is very easy to register to vote in Minnesota, in fact it's amazingly easy. that has always bothered me. When I lived in a small Massachusetts town thirty years ago, i had to register to vote by coming in to the city hall and signing my name in a book. then they could compare my signature when I voted. Now, in a small Minnesota town, i sign in a book but there is no verification other than showing some ID. sometimes I even know the election judges.

Voting is at the core of our government system. it has got to be pure, honest and good. Election advertising constantly seeks to pollute the process, but fixing that seems to be a lost cause. if you examine closely the problems related to voting, voter fraud is certainly one of the most likely candidates for scrutiny, but not the only one.

But if there is not much fraud, this amendment is not much of a solution, and it will lead to more government bureaucracy. Thanks for publishing such a good analysis. this issue is a microcosm of what's going wrong and getting wronger with our system - unbiased data is too, too rare.

I have never shown ID to vote

I tell them my name and address and sign the book. I have shown ID in the registration process. As far as I'm concerned that's enough process to ensure the vote is valid.

"but there is no verification other than showing some ID"

Uh, that's kind of our point, sir. Thanks for making it for us.

Some id

.ID. Today can be utility bills. Those aren't government ment issued, and would be invalid if the amendment passes. Is that your point?

The plural of Anecdote

is not "Data" it's anecdotal. Apparently anecdote is enough for some palates, but not the critical ones.

Last night at a candidate forum in Ogilvie, before a good-sized crowd and the media, a local R candidate (when questioned about the ballot amendments) simply declared "I know of a student who used his college ID to vote in seven districts!"

For the interests of civility I resisted shouting "Bullshit!" and instead whispered to my seatmate "Red herring." The preponderance of evidence is against the need for revamping MN voting procedures and risk to disenfranchising a larger group of Minnesotans to accommodate a faith-based assumption on the part of a minority that insistently clings to anecdotes.

There is no voter fraud in

There is no voter fraud in Minnesota that a photo ID that says you are who you say you are would correct. Education of felons on their voting rights would eliminate practically the entire "problem" the Republicans claim there is, because it's illegally-voting felons who make up whatever numbers we're talking about here.

Funny, too, that this whole photo ID thingie is ALEC-sponsored legislation, that is popping up all over the U. S. at the same time, in the absence of any voter fraud that could be "corrected" or avoided by such an amendment.

Meantime, the corruption in our political system caused by the anonymous donors of millions and billions of dollars to buy politicians, or influence elections, is ignored by the greater public. My impression is that this entire "voter fraud demands voter photo ID" campaign is a deliberate smoke screen to prevent us all from seeing the Koch brothers and that big gambling empresario (Adelman) and their billionaire peers buying our government.

I'm excited....

Should this amendment be approved, to see exactly what photo ID with proof of citizenship, current address, and non-felon status will look like. It won't be our current driver's license nor will it be the state ID for non-drivers because neither of those things prove your citizenship or right to vote as a non-felon. WIll it be right next to the organ donor line? "John Doe, 123 Main Street. Anytown, MN. ORGAN DONOR. AMERICAN CITIZEN. NON-FELON" in big red letters, perhaps? I also am very curious about what new database will be created to hold ALL 3 types of information. How this is the type of legislation that Republicans are clamoring for to reduce the size, scope, power, and oversight of the government is beyond me.

Voter ID Can Only Have One Title

We spend a lot of time and money chasing those fiscal conservative republicans' unfounded fears. Now they want to set up a "free" Voter ID system when they can't even prove Minnesota has a voter ID problem. "Free", in the eyes of republicans, means someone else pays, just not them. We just had two recent recount elections that had bipartisan monitors looking for voter fraud and none was found. Voter ID would be an amendment to the state constitution that would only serve republicans. The constitution is there to serve all Minnesotans, not just republicans. The amendment should be titled "Don't Vote For This Amendment!

Cost estimates

The cost estimates of the "free" IDs related to taxpayer costs. For voters who have to obtain other supporting documents, such as birth certificates in other states, there will still be costs. These examples are coming forward now, involving elderly people who have always voted.

what is this ?

'Even though the polls indicate that political affiliation seems to be evenly divided, I guess the reason republicans and independents favor this amendment overwhelmingly is that we're confident that our voters don't cheat and we won't be losing any votes as a result of people having to prove who they are."

A statement taken directly from a poster.

I interpret "our" to mean the generally accepted definition . So if "our" voters don't cheat what is the need for an amendment ? Particularly in light of the outrageous expense. There is lots of calculation out there about the number of voters who will be deterred. So essentially money is being spent which will result in some citizens not being able to vote. Voting will be suppressed.

Do we care ?

There is nine step verfication proces.

The secretary of state currently verifies every single registration using a 9 step process that includes the address verification cards. This verification process is many times more accurate and reliable than any system relying on photo IDs. The suggestion that there is no or can be no verification without a photo ID is simply ignorant. We currently verify every registration without the use of photo ID and we do it with few errors.

Correcion to an ealier post

In an earlier post I questioned the authors numbers regarding the 41,000 returned Postal Verification Cards (PVCs). Information I found stated that there were actually 399 returned cards. I was mistaken. The information I found referred to cases that had been referred to country prosecutors. I requested and received the same information from the SOS as the author did, Here's an excerpt:

"There were 41,785 voters in this category. Of course, a returned postcard does not equate to fraud.

In fact, many of these voters:

- were not same day registrants (they pre-registered to vote) [24,000 voters]
- did same day registration in previous years, not in 2008 [17,000]
- had a PVC returned due to postal carrier error (another PVC has since been delivered to that - address) [1,600]
- had moved, and their voter record reflects this [9,800]
- had the original post-election PVC delivered, and then later had one returned as undeliverable, sometimes years later

That leaves 2,873 returned PVCs from same day registrants from November 2008."

There are other reasons that a card may be returned such as illegible handwriting. Of the remaining cards the County Auditors are required to make further efforts to verify those registrations and if they can't, they are required to turn those over to the country attorney.

Sorry of any confusion I may have caused.