For constituents fed up with legislative gridlock, Monday’s House floor session offered a ray of hope. A number of bills were introduced and passed — mostly of the housekeeping variety — with little vitriolic debate. And most of them made it 130-to-0 sort of margins.
But then Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican from Delano, had the nerve to muck things up. House File 1546, a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon, a DFLer from St. Louis Park, seemed harmless enough: It purported, according to a summary, to “establish a procedure for the secretary of state to collect information from the U.S. Postal Service and electronically distribute it to county auditors in order to update the statewide voter registration system and avoid voters being registered at multiple locations.”
The idea is to take it easy on county auditors’ bookkeeping and also avoid voter disenfranchisement on election days after people move.
Emmer offered an amendment that gave rise to one of the few real debates of the day; it would see that “each county auditor shall provide at which it shall accept applications for and issue Minnesota voter identification cards to registered Minnesota voters.” The cards would be laminated and have such regular ol’ info like name, residence, birth date and height and weight.
What could be the problem? Well, for starters, voting in Minnesota is a breeze, and the elections, even with famously high turnout, are historically squeaky clean — if it ain’t broke … And lawmakers had questions about the “fiscal impact” not only of the amendment, but of the bill itself. More importantly, in the fine print, the amendment required that those seeking the card be at least 18 years of age and be “a citizen of the United States.” In other words, there was a whiff of anti-immigrant rhetoric that could be — could be — detected.
Voter identification is an issue that gets trotted out in some Republican circles — including those that include Gov. Tim Pawlenty — during election seasons to bolster certain voting blocs. Or perhaps discount others. Simon perhaps sensed this, saying that the Emmer amendment was “an explosion of the bill,” and asked that Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a DFLer, find the amendment “not germane” and toss it out.
Kelliher agreed with Simon, but Emmer, saying that both the bill and the amendment dealt with voter fraud, appealed the speaker’s decision. House members voted 83 to 49 to uphold Kelliher’s decision, and then voted 115 to 16 for Simon’s bill. The voter ID issue appears dead for now.
Immediately after the vote, Emmer was unbowed, saying he wanted a law similar to one in Georgia that required a picture ID for voters. He also said that the notion that his amendment was unrelated to the bill “stretches the imagination.”
“It kind of means whatever is good for the goose,” Emmer concluded, “is not good for the gander.”