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GOP’s Voter ID bill passes hurdle on party-line vote

Supporters scored their first committee victory today, passing a complex omnibus election law bill that, among other things, requires photo IDs of all Minnesota voters at polling places.
Dayton to stress investment, innovation and educa

GOP’s Voter ID bill passes hurdle on party-line vote

Former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and supporters of Voter ID in Minnesota scored their first committee victory today, passing a complex omnibus election law bill that, among other things, requires photo IDs of all voters at polling places.

The measure also would limit vouching for new voters and institute an electronic poll book system that many election officials say is unworkable and expensive.

Kiffmeyer, now a Republican House member from Big Lake, called the committee passage of House File 210 “very satisfying … I think this is an idea whose time has come. We’ve had our first successful vote in Minnesota today, and that is good news.”

She said it’s the first time a Voter ID bill has ever made it out of committee in either chamber of the Minnesota Legislature.

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It passed the House Government Operations and Elections Committee along party lines — all nine Republicans on the committee voted yes, all six DFLers voted no — but it is a long way from becoming law.

The bill now moves to the House State Government Finance Committee, where its fiscal implications will be examined.

Some DFLers have said the full bill — which includes requiring photo IDs for all voters and installing a statewide network for Election Day operations — could cost as much as $40 million, with many of the costs drilled down to the counties.

Kiffmeyer disputed the high costs today, but no fiscal notes have been developed by any agency.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s State of the State Speech on Wednesday will likely push back such complex policy bills for a while as both parties in both chambers dig in for what’s certain to be a vigorous budget debate that will be previewed by Dayton’s speech. His budget is set to be released next Tuesday.

In the end, DFLers believe that Voter ID supporters, including Kiffmeyer, are more likely to settle for the passage of House File 89, which is exclusively a photo ID bill; it is cleaner than what the DFLers call the “bloated” HF 210, which is 30 pages long and essentially redoes much of Minnesota’s voting rules by next year.

Kiffmeyer wouldn’t concede such maneuvering after today’s hearing but didn’t shoot it down either.

“We never know the conclusion of the Legislature and the issues that may be addressed,” she said. “Or should there be a combination of the two [bills]? That’s a legislative possibility.”

She added that she didn’t expect to gain any support from the DFL.

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“What we really see is that Secretary of State [Mark] Ritchie and the Democrats are just plain opposed to Voter ID,” she said.

The vote today came at the end of a two-hour hearing that included gut-wrenching testimony from disabled and blind people who worried about some provisions limiting personal assistance when they vote.

It also came after a pointed presentation from Ritchie, who vigorously opposed Voter ID and wondered what the problem was: After all, there is very limited real evidence of voter fraud in Minnesota, and the state’s voter turnout continues to lead the nation, with nearly 80 percent of citizens voting. Wisconsin is second.

“We can’t beat ’em in football, but we can beat ‘em in voting,” the secretary of state said.

Ritchie also noted that previous governors, such as Arne Carlson and Tim Pawlenty, approved elections law changes but only those that were supported in a bipartisan way by the Legislature. Clearly, Voter ID is not backed by the DFL.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, pointed to the state’s Constitution, particularly Article VII, and noted that with few exceptions – felons, the “insane” – people 18 and older “shall be entitled to vote.” There is no mention of needing a photo ID.

Winkler and others who testified raised the specter of lawsuits if any Voter ID bill were passed and were signed by Gov. Dayton. But Dayton has suggested he is opposed to Voter ID, calling it “largely a solution in search of a problem.”

The matter of electronic poll books was raised, with Winkler offering an amendment to delete the provision, which technology experts and many state election officials believe is too expensive and unreliable. But that, too, was defeated 9-6 on a party-line vote.

Key opponents to the Kiffmeyer bill — such as Winkler and Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Minneapolis — sit on the State Government Finance Committee, too, and will be questioning the costs of any comprehensive Voter ID and electronic poll book system.

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The Government Operations committee is set to consider the simpler HF 89 on Wednesday. 

Winkler, Simon and Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) are expected to seek several amendments that would not only toughen penalties for illegal voting and illegal registering but also for illegal interference with legitimate voting. The amendments also would allow early voting options, including “no excuse” absentee voting.

But, if party-line votes occur again, those amendments wouldn’t pass.