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ID'ing the problem: What's really behind opposition to Voter ID

Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood

It was a long debate, but the Minnesota House finally approved putting Voter I.D. on the ballot as a constitutional amendment yesterday. If the Senate approves later in the week, the final vote could come by the end of the week.

The discussions over Voter I.D. are particularly irritating because they never really get to the heart of the issue. The problem that no one really wants to face is why having a valid identification is such a problem for a lot of people — one reason in particular is something no one wants to discuss. If you move around a lot, there are a lot of costs involved in keeping your identification up to date.

You have to renew your driver's license in Minnesota once every four years. I paid $24 for a renewal last year. If you move, you need to pay $13.50 for an update. As a practical matter, a lot of people don't want to bother with that cost and don't get a replacement license each time they move.

Why is this? Neither side wants to admit it, but there are some people who live in Minnesota who move a lot. Renters are one class, but there are rather a lot of people who bounce around from place to place and really don't have a fixed address. Someone I know very well works in a public sector job. In the course of doing her job, she is often required to ask people for identification. She has told me that on a daily basis, presenting a current i.d. is a problem for some people. When she inquires, as she must, if the address on the identification card is current, the answer is often "no, I live someplace else now" or "I live over South" (that would be South Minneapolis) or somesuch. In a surprising, and mildly alarming, number of cases, the individuals don't bother carrying a driver's license at all, which is especially interesting since the place my public sector confidante works is in a suburban location in which the vast majority of visitors arrive via car.

So what is the problem? Is it the fee structure for getting an i.d.? Is it the hassle of taking time out of work to get to the DMV? Is it just laziness? Are a lot of people going Galt and resisting the entreaties of their government? Do some people simply resent having to show their papers, please? Or are a lot of people living here without identification because they are here illegally?

Those are questions that I can't answer. And a lot of those questions are ones that we are hesitant to ask in a polite society. While I am convinced that the primary reason the DFL doesn't want Photo I.D. is because it makes it easier to cheat, we still need to address the mechanisms involved in getting proper identification.

This post was written by Mark Heuring and originally published on Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood.

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Comments (10)


While the first part of this was an interesting anecdote, the ending was incredibly biased without any sort of factual information. Labeling anyone who doesn't have an ID as lazy or illegal and blaming the DFL for wanting to "cheat" is ridiculous. I have yet to see any data that shows voter fraud from illegal immigrants is a big issue. I would gladly read any article out there that shows this.

Fact of the matter is, a lot of very poor LEGAL citizens will simply chose not to buy an ID. Not everyone has a car. Not everyone needs to drive. Hell, I know people that make a decent living that chose to live a life without a vehicle. In Minnesota, it is possible to do that in some of the suburbs even.

So, should someone who is very poor, barely making ends meet, and working multiple minimum wage jobs be forced to pay to vote? Voting is a right for all citizens. You shouldn't have to pay anything to vote.

Also, we are talking about a constitutional amendment. Conservatives should be outraged that this is going to affect the constitution. But then, I look at the current crop of republicans and I realize that the only ideals they have are ones that involve making the rich richer and controlling the lives of individuals based on their own version of morality. I would love to see the return of government officials (on both sides of the isle) that actually care about the people in this society.

Since the law isn't even in effect yet ...

You'll have plenty of time to get an ID if you really wanted to vote. Otherwise, if you're poor, you can use the one you used to get government assistance. If you have a job, you can use the one you used to get your I9 processed.

If the liberals can expect us to re-write the constitution to throw dedicated taxpayer money at their pet projects, conservatives can re-write the constitution to protect it against fraud.

If anyone is trying to

If anyone is trying to 'cheat' here, it is the conservatives trying to pass this bill. I don't think it's a coincidence that the people most effected by this are minorities, low income individuals and college students, all of whom typically lean left. Not to mention a total lack of evidence of voter fraud ever being a big problem in this state. If anything we are known for the integrity of our elections.

ID for Government assistance

You don't need an ID with current address to get government assistance. In fact you don't even need an address to apply, as homeless people probably need those services even more than the rest of the population. The biggest problem with this change isn't ID's in general, but ID's with current address, as it is costly in time and money to change your ID when you are constantly on the move. Why do we need to make it so much harder for people to vote when we already have such a great electoral system, largely devoid of fraud?

And I'm sorry, but what did liberals do to re-write the constitution to throw tax money at pet projects? There was one amendment passed 4 years ago to increase taxes temporarily to preserve natural resources and cultural heritage, and another to dedicate a vehicle sales tax to vehicle supporting services 6 years ago.

Apparently those two amendments have given conservatives in this state quite a bit of license to re-write the constitution, Gay Marriage is already on the ballot, Voter ID is about to be, an amendment to reaffirm the 2nd amendment rights we already have through the US constitution has been proposed, as have a union busting amendment, several budget amendments, and the Super majority amendment, which makes it harder to make amendments (really?!). It seems to me that conservatives aren't very happy with how our constitution reads at all.

Responses to comments

First, thanks to all for your comments. This is the first post of what I expect will be several on the topic, so it should be viewed as an introduction more than anything else.

Thomas says:

I have yet to see any data that shows voter fraud from illegal immigrants is a big issue. I would gladly read any article out there that shows this.

Minnesota Public Radio reported the following last year:

Based on independent information, it appears that Minnesota Majority's estimate that 113 people have been convicted of voter fraud may be in the ballpark, though a precise number is elusive.

As a result, their claim rates inconclusive.

"In the ballpark" would mean that probably 100 cases of voter fraud or more are documented. How many are illegal immigrants is hard to say, and as you'll notice I didn't say I knew the answer. The point of this post was to indicate that any move to institute Voter I.D. will need to ensure that issues concerning implementation need to be addressed.

Dennis, I agree with your position -- if we take care of the due diligence, there will be time to ensure that people who need i.d. can get it. I also would assume that people who are eligible but don't have i.d. would be able to cast a provisional ballot, allowing for verification after the fact.

Laura, I agree that the change of address situation is an issue, which is why I brought it up in the post. It shouldn't be an insurmountable problem, though.

As for whether or not we should be rewriting the constitution, the law and the constitution of the state itself allow the legislature to put such things on the ballot. Should it? Maybe, maybe not. But it does. This is how we got the Legacy Amendment, among other things. And by the way, there's nothing temporary about it.

It's difficult to understand why conservatives shouldn't have the same ability to change the constitution as the liberals did in passing the Legacy Amendment. If you think the proposals on the ballot should be defeated, you'll have ample opportunity to campaign against them. Eternal vigilance is part of the cost of citizenship.

The Legacy amendment

Benefitted the entire state and as I recall was fairly bipartisan. Republican measures this year are totally partisan and designed just to avoid the governor's veto. Independents and Democrats and moderate Republicans now have ample evidence how the far right wing governs. Rest assured that if any of the measures pass, they will be removed as quickly as possible, and these tactics will come back to bite you. By the way, when is your merry band rolling out the no-sex in the capital amendment?

Two wrongs

Setting aside that the Legacy Amendment has bipartisan support, the Legacy Amendment was wrong and shortsighted, and so is Voter ID. Neither belong in the constitution.

Minnesota doesn't have a referendum process that allows voters to pass statutes. Jumping to the constitiution should be considered serious business, not (perceived) political tit-for-tag policy chalkboard. It will make our state ungovernable, just as it has California.

Transparency in counting is far more important

Is voting a right?
Is it OK to put conditions on rights?
Once a right has a condition, is it a right any longer?

Are absentee voter exempt from showing ID?
How do they present ID?

I guess I take a Maimonides and Genesis(18:23-32) philosophy to issues like this. I would rather 100 illegitimate votes cast than see a single citizen denied their right to vote for any reason.

Election fraud has a much greater chance of impacting results that voter fraud does. Even if there is no malicious intent but something as simple as a bug in the voting machine hardware/software it could cause thousands of inaccurate results depending on where the issue occurs.

All ballots should be counted in public, and recorded and made available to the general public. Ballots should not be scanned on site. All ballots should be dropped in a lock box and taken to a central counting facility. Representatives from any and all participant campaigns as well as objective third parties should be on hand for the counting. Counting should be broadcast live, as well as recorded and made publicly available. Ballots themselves should be scanned as part of the counting process, as they are counted. These scans should also be public record. All citizens should be able to audit the vote count should they choose.

Holding the counters feet to the fire should be a far bigger issue than holding voters feet to the fire.

Reasonable until the end.

I was right there with you, and felt this was a relatively even-handed approach (if a little myopic about poverty), but then all the good will and most of the credibility went out the window at the end when it wandered into conspiracy theory territory. After two of the most-scrutinized elections in state history, with the polls teeming with self-appointed fraud watchers, there is still no evidence to support your suspicion. In most aspects of life conspiracy theories are given little regard, but for some reason the Voter Fraud conspiracy theory gets to drive statewide policy. The mind boggles.

But the baby shouldn't be thrown out with the bathwater, here: there ARE important questions to be asked and answered about requiring a photo ID to vote. But the proposed amendment remains a moving target. The testimony from the house author reveals it doesn't operate the way it's public supporters seem to believe—does the address have to be current or doesn't it? Why are out of state IDs acceptable, and what chaos can we expect at the polls when we have our elderly volunteer poll judges issuing spot judgments about people's IDs from aroun the nation? Remember in 2008 when we all decided comparing signatures on absentee ballots allowed too much discretion? But now poll workers will be turning people away based on their judgment about a grainy photo on a laminated plastic card?

It is acknowledged that the measure imposes burdens on some, particularly the young, elderly, and transient. Yet proponents are unable to establish that the measure actually accomplishes anything besides salve their irrational conspiracy fears. Let's not put the cart before the horse. The burden is on proponents to prove the harm to voters is justified by the benefit. So show us the benefit.

Not a simple requirement

This is not a simple requirement, and even if it were, why are "small government" champions creating and additional and completely unnecessary government hoop for citizens to jump through? ID would have have prevent a single on of the 144 documented cases of voting fraud since 2008.

And here's the kicker: right now you can show up at the polls with a valid ID, register, and cast a vote that will counted on election day. You can do this because we have same day registration. This amendment will eliminate same day registration. You can show up on election day with your perfectly valid ID, but if you haven't registered at least 30 days in advance, you get a "provisional" ballot that is set aside and not counted. And unlike the other provisional ballots which will be counted when or if people return with a valid ID, no one has even tried to explain what someone who's already presented a valid ID has to do to get their provisional ballot counted. Now you can about what 50 or 60 felons are doing on election day if you want, but I'll tell you what: in 2010 we had almost 500,000 same day registration votes, that would all have been aside and not counted if we had we'd had this Voter ID requirement at the time. Those are the votes I worry about.