Group launches petition drives in St. Paul and Duluth to require photo IDs for voters

A group that says it wants to “empower the electorate” is gathering signatures in St. Paul and Duluth to seek a charter change that would require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance has about 500 signatures so far in St. Paul and needs 7,100 to get a charter amendment on a future ballot, said Andy Cilek, director of the group.

Cilek said the alliance has worked on other voting issues in recent years — including a court challenge of Minneapolis’ ranked-voting change — and found “people always ask us why we don’t push for photo ID requirements, too.”

So now they are.

“People wonder how a system can instill public confidence, if there’s no measure to deter or detect voter fraud?” he said.

A big task
Cilek said the group hopes to reach the 7,100-signature threshold in St. Paul (5 percent of those voting in the last general election) by July, so the signatures then could be verified and the measure approved by the City Council in time for the November general election.

“But that’s a big task, and it remains to be seen if we can do it. Otherwise, we’ll shoot for 2011,” he said.

The photo identification requirement, if approved, would apply only for city races, such as mayor and city council, he said. School board races are governed by different state laws, as are state-wide elections for the Legislature and constitutional officers.

Legal status
There’s a question, though, whether the measure could ever make it on a ballot, even if the needed signatures are gathered.

Joe Mansky, head of elections in Ramsey County, said state law may not allow such a measure because it involves a determination of who is or is not allowed to vote.

“State law gives cities with Home Rule — like St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth — the opportunity to use their charters to determine some of the things required for city elections, such as how candidates are nominated and how elections are conducted,” Mansky explained. (That’s why St. Paul and Minneapolis both held, and passed, elections to change their charters to allow ranked voting.)

But Mansky said requiring voters to show identification might not fall under the narrowly defined parameters provided for elections in Home Rule cities.

“I don’t know that the Legislature has given the cities the opportunity to determine who is or is not eligible to vote or allow a different form of voter registrations in some cities but not others,” he said.

“So I would wonder if we could even put this on the ballot. We would not deal with it until the petition is submitted and verified, and then it would be sent to the City Council to see if it meets the legal requirements,” he said.

Safeguard or deterrent?
Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, which advocates political ethics and campaign finance issues, has many problems with the proposal. He said the photo identification issue was raised before the 2008 election as a scare tactic, designed to confuse voters and to keep many poor and elderly people from the polls.

Even though the current petition states that a charter change would include a requirement for cities to “provide the means” to get a photo ID for any citizen who cannot afford one, Dean said that provision would require much time and effort from poor and elderly citizens, and an extra cost for cities.

He also said the provision would increase the likelihood of more extended election battles — such as the Coleman/Franken marathon count — because there then would be photo identification challenges, as well.

Dean said that voter fraud is rare, with one study showing only a handful of cases of individuals impersonating voters.

“It’s not worth the effort and the cost, and it would deter a lot of people from going to the polls,” he said.

“And if they’re allowed to make these kinds of changes, it would mean different voter registration rules in different places around the state. And Norm Coleman argued that there needs to be equal protection, so this is bad policy, whether you’re conservative or progressive,” Dean said.

Message to the Legislature
Cilek said his group hopes that by raising the issue in St. Paul and Duluth, it will bring statewide attention to the matter.

“We’re sending a message to the Legislature: Look what people are saying in two of our biggest cities,” he said. “This helps force the issue; helps push it along.”

Recent attempts to pass a photo ID bill in the Legislature have stalled, he said. A bill requiring picture identification was introduced by Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican from Delano, last session and had two dozen Republican co-authors, but the proposal was  defeated in committee and voted down as an amendment on the House floor.

“What we’re doing in Duluth and St. Paul should at least put some pressure on somebody,” he said.

Joe Kimball writes about politics, St. Paul and other subjects. He can be reached at jkimball [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/23/2009 - 09:33 am.

    I’m sure Dean said *you’re* — not *your*.

  2. Submitted by Susan Rego on 11/23/2009 - 11:29 am.

    In regard to Rep. Emmer’s bill not getting a hearing in committee last session:

    Rep. Emmer’s bill was heard in the House State Government Ops committee on Feb. 12, and failed 8-11. SOS Ritchie spoke against the measure, and others also testified that voter impersonation at the polls is exceedingly rare in Minnesota. After that, two attempts to amend other bills with Voter ID language failed.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 11/23/2009 - 11:41 am.

    Just what provisions for people who can’t afford IDs are photo ID advocates willing to make? Dumping it on the cities adds an expense for a non-existent problem.

    Two things I’ve never understood about photo ID advocates: one, they seem unable to realize that the efforts conservatives make to stop poor people from voting might be connected to poor people refusing to vote for conservatives; two, if the IDs came with voter registration, by which I mean that when a voter got their ID they were simultaneously registered to vote, liberals might decide the tradeoff was worth it.

  4. Submitted by Kelly O'Brien on 11/23/2009 - 11:48 am.

    This sounds like an attempt to disenfranchise renters, students, and other people who by necessity may move frequently and therefore not have their photo ID’s match their voting address.

  5. Submitted by Grace McGarvie on 11/23/2009 - 11:53 am.

    With all of the real problems in the world you would think these people would look for a problem that needs solving, not one that is not even a problem. To clog up the voting day process by requiring everyone to show a picture id is rediculous. Impersonation of a registered voter by someone other than the registered voter happens maybe once every 10 years in Minnesota. I remember one guy arrested several years ago because he attempted to vote in the name of his dead father. On the other hand, there are many elderly women who do not have driver’s licenses, and would be very inconvenienced by a demand for a picture id. Cilek and his group need to take their time and money and go work at a food bank.

  6. Submitted by Dale Carlton on 11/23/2009 - 03:45 pm.

    Empower the voters or another solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    At least we know where Kifmeyer is.

  7. Submitted by Don Effenberger on 11/23/2009 - 03:52 pm.

    Re: Comments No. 1 and 2: We’ve fixed those passages. Thanks.

  8. Submitted by Len Lorence on 11/23/2009 - 08:27 pm.

    Ramsey county requires a photo id to access their compost sites. I find it strange that the county board is more concerned with illegal composting than illegal voting.

  9. Submitted by Ann Richards on 11/24/2009 - 05:17 am.

    Perhaps Cilek and his group would take my father in for his photo ID, and while doing that they can take in the other 30 voting residents of his care facility who no longer have a photo ID. You have to be careful with him- he is frail, so bring a large, low car that you can help him get into. Let him walk on his own but be prepared to grab him when he starts to fall. You will probably have to make a separate trip for each as they all do better in the front seat. It should not be the responsibility of the care facility to do this. Nor the city. Those who imagine the problem should find the funds. His children are available to help on weekends, when the city offices are closed.

  10. Submitted by David Campbell on 11/24/2009 - 10:13 am.

    If you move, state law requires you to change your ID address within 30 days.

    I’ve only been composting in Ramsey county for a year, but have never been asked for my ID.

  11. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 11/24/2009 - 11:59 am.

    Small lines for small minds:

    Or how to control who votes; who has ‘the right’ to vote?

    Why not just stamp ‘legitimate registered voter’ on the wrist with a small charge for the service of course… to assure no body without ‘legitimate credentials gets in free, in a free society.

    Alternative: require I.D. chip embedded in the forehead. Would cost a bit more but if you want to vote, you got to pay the piper? To be renewed every two or four years with a secondary charge.

    Or like they used to do it in the 30’s in Europe…brand one’s I.D. on one’s forearm:

    “One line forms to the right. On to the voting booth!”

    The rest of you follow Security out the other exit…single file. Hands at your sides.Hurry up now it’s time. March!”

    Who knows, all this could be activated in the future for other purposes?

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/24/2009 - 10:09 pm.

    //Claims of voter fraud in Minnesota are greatly exaggerated. There is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem that has affected any recent elections, including in Minnesota.//

    Allegations of voter fraud—someone sneaking into the polls to cast an illicit vote—have been pushed in recent years by partisans seeking to justify proof-of-citizenship and other restrictive ID requirements as a condition of voting. Scare stories abound on the Internet and on editorial pages, and they quickly become accepted wisdom. But the notion of widespread voter fraud, is itself a fraud.

    Before and after every close election, politicians and pundits proclaim: The dead are voting, foreigners are voting, people are voting twice. On closer examination, though, most such allegations don’t pan out. Consider a list of supposedly dead voters in Upstate New York that was much touted last October. Where reporters looked into names on the list, it turned out that the voters were, to quote Monty Python, “not dead yet.”

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