Voter ID issue advances at Capitol, but facts continue to get in the way

A funny thing happened recently to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on its way to nailing an alleged illegal voter.

Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigative arm found that clerical mistakes are sometimes made and that people can be accused of trying to vote illegally when they actually didn’t.

The investigators, with the aid of Hennepin County elections officials, learned that clerks at the state Department of Vehicle Services can wrongly check off boxes and that workers at voting locations can incorrectly mark a voter roster.

We mention this as the “Voter ID” movement pushes ahead again Tuesday with its bill, sponsored by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, in the Senate Finance Committee. It’s the companion of House File 210, backed by former Secretary of State and current Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.

It’s a bill that assumes that people regularly attempt to impersonate others on Election Day and that convicted felons can be halted from voting with the use of some newfangled Voter ID card. Wrong assumptions, indeed.

The Voter ID effort in Minnesota is, as Gov. Mark Dayton has said, “largely a solution in search of a problem.” After sitting through testimony at an earlier hearing, I think it’s obvious any Voter ID rule would mostly help to disenfranchise a variety of subsets of voters, such as senior citizens, citizens with disabilities and students. It’s even possible these groups lean towards voting Democratic, but that’s not the issue. Is it?

Minnesota Majority returns
In advance of this final Voter ID push at the Legislature, the Minnesota Majority last week announced yet another chase for felon voters in 70 of the state’s 87 counties. Minnesota Majority, a conservative group, claims that 222 “ineligible felons” voted in 2010 and that “maybe as many as 743” could have committed voter fraud.
It should be noted that after the 2008 election, Minnesota Majority, which opposes gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and doubts global climate change, alleged that 2,803 felons had “participated” in that year’s voting. But a more thorough review and survey (PDF) of 71 of the state’s 87 county attorneys — representing 93 percent of the electorate — released last November by Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota and other voter watchdog groups found a total of 38 convictions for felons voting or registering to vote. Since then, that number has increased but is likely below 100. Minnesota Majority seems to have been off by 2,700 cases.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer

The executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association even publicly criticized Minnesota Majority’s “wildly overstated” felon voting allegations.
Mistakes made
Voter ID advocates seem to have two basic factual problems in their efforts to make it more difficult for some citizens to register and vote.

One is their charge that we need Voter ID laws to halt “voter impersonation.” The other goes to the belief that Voter ID would halt alleged “felon voting.”

In 2008, county attorneys in 71 of Minnesota’s 87 counties investigated a total of seven impersonation charges out of 2.9 million voters, according to the election integrity group’s survey. There were, as of mid-2010, no reported convictions.

Nationally, the Brennan Center at New York University released a study (PDF) four years ago that asserted, almost comically: “It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Even if someone wants to vote who shouldn’t, these are not open-and-shut cases. A mere examination of documents — as Minnesota Majority likes to do — is not sufficient.

Let’s take a look at one case we heard about in Minneapolis that illustrates the trickiness of making accusations stick.

Last January, Homeland Security’s ICE got wind of one voter who was not a citizen and who seemed to have tried to cast a ballot illegally. That’s a felony that should be prosecuted.

Doing its job, ICE investigated, beginning with a phone call and then an ominous letter (PDF) to Hennepin County officials, seeking a voter log, certified registration and voter history.

In an exchange of emails we’ve seen, as officials investigated, a few things soon became clear to Hennepin County elections workers and ICE.

First, when this non-citizen applied for a driver’s license, the Department of Motor Vehicles erroneously marked that this non-citizen wanted to register to vote. But, the investigation found, he never checked that opt-in box.

First mistake.

When his wife went to vote last November, she apparently looked at the poll roster and told the election worker that her husband was not a registered voter. The elections worker wrote the word “challenge” next to the man’s name on the roster.

With that, this non-citizen received a voter history, even though he didn’t vote.

Second mistake.

ICE case closed. His “voter history” was removed by the county.

The point: Allegations don’t always become the prosecutable truths in this very rare voter-fraud world.

As for felon voters, if the problem is rampant, then a Voter ID isn’t the way to get at it. Voter IDs wouldn’t prevent felons from voting, opponents of the bills say. For instance, a driver’s license, which can be used to obtain a Voter ID, doesn’t indicate a person’s criminal status.

“They’re talking about a solution that doesn’t address the issue,” said Kathy Bonnifield, CEIMN’s associate director.

What’s needed is continuing and improved communication between county probation officers, county attorneys, the Secretary of State’s Office and county election officials. And that communication has been improving markedly over the past three years.

In Hennepin County, for instance, Elections Manager Rachel Smith established a hot line last November for election judges. If there were a question about a suspected felon voter, the judges could call a probation officer on the hot line to check their rosters against voting rosters. That makes sense.

Meanwhile, rather than Voter ID bills, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association is supporting legislation to define and fend off the problem of some felons trying to vote.

Under this proposal, county corrections officials would clearly notify convicted felons 18 weeks before Election Day if they are eligible or ineligible to vote. This proposed bill would require corrections officials to notify the Secretary of State’s Office, too, so there’s coordination on voter lists. There would be a requirement that the Secretary of State’s Office report each year to the Legislature on the success of felon voter monitoring. The methods and “best practices” by the counties to inform felons must be established by January 2012.

Other states
The final effort to get a Voter ID bill passed in Minnesota comes on the heels of a decision by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to oppose his GOP colleagues in the Ohio Legislature who wanted to introduce Voter ID.

He’s not a big believer in the reality of voter impersonation.

“I believe that if you have a government-issued check, a utility bill in your name with your address on it, that no one made that up,” Husted told reporters recently. “They didn’t call [American Electric Power] and establish utilities in their name to commit voter fraud.”

Then, there’s a shocking case in Indiana, where Voter ID is in force. Indiana’s Voter ID law went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was upheld.

As it turns out, Indiana’s Republican Secretary of State Charlie White, who ran for office on a platform that supported the state’s Voter ID law, was indicted last month on seven charges, including — you guessed it — voter fraud.

He voted in a precinct where he wasn’t living. When White voted, he showed his voter ID card. The mere presence of the card didn’t halt his alleged crime.

He said he didn’t intentionally break the law. He is innocent until proven guilty. Fraud? We’ll know more this summer; his trial begins in August. But a statewide pattern of fraud? Don’t think so.

In terms of catching illegal voting, the system worked, as it has been working in Minnesota for many years.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 04/25/2011 - 10:21 am.

    What makes this intended law more egregious is the fact that Minnesota has had a sparkling reputation for clean elections…abundant registration…and high voter turnout (often highest in the nation). Why the conservatives want to besmirch this history with nonesense is beyond me; but then again it is probably just an extension of the damage done by the Pawlenty years to the reputation and quality of life we have so long respected in our great state.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/25/2011 - 10:51 am.

    Since I was only here for the tail end of the Pawlenty era, I don’t know if blaming the former Governor is in order or not, but this seems very much a solution in search of a problem. Instead of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” which was the basis of the campaign last November, I’m too often reading about Republican maneuvers in the culture wars, of which this seems the latest skirmish.

    Given the tiny numbers of felons and impersonators who might have voted, what comes most readily to mind – aside from the multimillion-dollar cost of a new vote-monitoring program when “cut, cut, cut” is the operative term in the legislature – is that it’s another example of right-wing paranoia. That is, people who aren’t “just like us” might somehow cast a ballot, and when they do, of course, there’s the distinct possibility that they might cast that ballot for someone who is also not “just like us.”

    That this bill and the impetus behind it might be construed to have racist overtones has probably occurred to others besides myself. Just sayin’…

  3. Submitted by Don Jacobson on 04/25/2011 - 11:40 am.

    As noted in your story and the comments, as well as in numerous commentaries in recent months–MINNESOTA DOES NOT HAVE A VOTER FRAUD PROBLEM. This should be treated as the Scandal that it is: blatant abuse of power with the sole goal of disenfranchising entire blocs of voters.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/25/2011 - 11:53 am.

    The “voter ID” bills have only ONE aim…

    To be sure that those who are invisible to our “conservative” Republican friends,

    with their “money goggles” firmly in place – i.e. anyone who does not have substantial amounts of money,

    find it far more difficult if not impossible to vote.

    As Mr. Zellers revealed in his late-night radio comments a few days ago, the “money goggles” crew believes in the heart of their very dysfunctional psyches that only the privileged should be allowed to vote freely and without impediment.

    “Free and fair” voting is exactly what they DON’T want.

  5. Submitted by Bryan Dohla on 04/25/2011 - 12:14 pm.

    Clean elections in Minnesota? I sure hope you are being sarcastic. Franken/Coleman was anything but clean. In fact, we will probably never know the authentic winner of that election due to all the political/legal wrangling that followed. How is it not voter disenfranchisement when you can ignore someone’s ballot if both candidates agree to it?

    You also had some of the same inconsistencies that were present in the Franken/Coleman election pop back up in the Emmer/Dayton race. The only difference this time is that Emmer was too far behind in votes to legitimize any drawn out legal process.

    The writer of this article acts as if the Voter ID law being pushed through the state legislature is the “end all” answer to voter fraud. It’s not. Most of it’s supporters will admit it. More work needs to be done to make sure our election system is clean. Public opinion polls in this state consistently show high support for Voter ID laws. This is just a stepping stone – there’s no silver bullet to this issue.

    And can we stop with implying “racial overtones” to anything that we disagree with? I will never understand why so many on the left feel as if minorities should permanently be placed in a diaper.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/25/2011 - 12:22 pm.

    It is another chapter in the book book of irony in which the Republicans decry “big government” but install more and more intrusive means of checking up on citizens.

    Now if they were all for a comprehensive felony/mental-illness/domestic-abuse check before gun purchases…

    Oh wait, that might only prevent a few unnecessary deaths, which certainly is not as heinous as a couple of illegal votes.

  7. Submitted by L.A. Krahn on 04/25/2011 - 12:39 pm.

    Voter ID is nothing but a Red Herring — a blatant attempt to divert attention away from other issues that need & deserve public attention.

    Thanks, Jay, for continuing to to point out the facts, to those who care about facts.

  8. Submitted by Sally Mortenson on 04/25/2011 - 01:27 pm.

    What about the cost? In an era when we are short of funds to provide adequate funding for nursing homes, pre-school education, roads, etc. why would we want to spend 1 cent on preventing “voter fraud.” If there are convicted felons out there who care enough about their goverment to vote, perhaps it would be more useful to think about a process to allow that to happen.
    Sally Mortenson

  9. Submitted by John Ferman on 04/25/2011 - 01:52 pm.

    A story that keeps going around and around like a Merry GoRound is that it were not for 5,000 voting felons Emmer would be Governor today.

  10. Submitted by John Ferman on 04/25/2011 - 01:55 pm.

    A story that keeps going around and around like a Merry GoRound is that it were not for 5,000 voting felons Emmer would be Governor today.

  11. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/25/2011 - 02:16 pm.

    “How is it not voter disenfranchisement when you can ignore someone’s ballot if both candidates agree to it?”

    Because the ballots that both candidates agreed upon were not close calls – they were obviously in or out. There were lots of ballots that the candidates did disagree on and were ruled upon by the court. If you look at the actual facts and consider how transparent the recount process was, it was a clean election. If you base your opinions on the outright lies of groups like Minnesota Majority, your ignorance is going to lead you to a different conclusion.

    The problem isn’t that voter ID doesn’t take care of all the problems – its that it doesn’t fix any problems, and creates new ones. The reason that people suggest there are racial overtones is that this useless legislation will negatively impact racial minorities. People will stop talking about racism when other people are no longer being racist.

  12. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/25/2011 - 03:07 pm.

    The Franken/Coleman recount was the most transparent, open, straightforward recount in history. The entire thing was videotaped, broadcast, and critiqued.

    As a reference, Indiana’s ID law cost them $10 million the first year. This was way more than estimated. There are a lot of those invisible, voiceless Americans. From our privileged perch we cannot imagine anyone doesn’t have an ID. Indiana found reality to be much, much more expensive.

  13. Submitted by Mickey Dolan on 04/25/2011 - 07:27 pm.

    Does voter fraud occur only when Democrats win? In the last election, there are accusations of voter fraud but only in the Mark Dayton race. If there was voter fraud in the Governor’s race, how did the Republican’s win the State House and Senate? Were those results also fraudulent?

  14. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/25/2011 - 09:21 pm.

    It would be real nice if the Republicans only worked the problems the state really does have and not the ones they make up as part of the fear mongering program. The Republicans need a divisive issue on the table at all times because they have no idea how to work for all the people. With a divisive issue they only have to work for a small portion of the population.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/25/2011 - 10:12 pm.

    I attended a debate a couple months ago between Steve Simon and Kiffmeyer. As the debate progressed it became clear that there are three agenda’s behind voter ID. One is same day registration, the voter ID scheme if it goes into effect simply won’t work with same day registration so if it were to become law you’d either have to repeal it or end same day registration. The other problem is vouching,the whole vouching system that allows people to vouch for someone without an ID just won’t work and will have to be scrapped. Finally, absentee ballots are impossible and would likely have to be scrapped as well. The Republicans never believed in universal suffrage and still don’t.

  16. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 04/26/2011 - 08:32 am.

    The goal is to have as many people as possible vote for the candidate of their choice. Enabling people to vote is a much more important initiative than trying to limit some small number of voters.

  17. Submitted by Joel Reiter on 04/26/2011 - 09:29 am.

    The opposition to this bill is all from Democrats, who keep repeating their mantra: “there is no voter fraud, people will be disenfranchised, there is no voter fraud, people will be disenfranchised.”

    Hey, if somebody doesn’t want to vote bad enough to get a voter id card, I really, really wish they would stay home. Because chances are excellent they haven’t taken the trouble to make an informed voting decision.

    And as far as voter fraud, looking the other way doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The reason the majority favors voter ID is that it builds confidence that voting is worth while.

  18. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/26/2011 - 02:34 pm.

    Joel, the Democrats “mantra” is based on actual evidence. If there was evidence of voter fraud – other than the handful of felon voting which would be unaffected by an ID law – there would be a reason for such a law. There isn’t, no matter how much the Voter ID proponents claim.

    If your biggest concern is voters making uninformed voting decisions, your comment leads me to believe the best remedy would be for you to stay home on election day.

  19. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 04/27/2011 - 06:54 am.

    Two points:
    > Since obtaining a state id is a sometimes slow process with a cost — $18.50 for those under 65 — how is the requirement for an id not a back door poll tax.
    >> It should also be noted that according to the Department of Motor Vehicles that issues the ids, state ids are available to resident aliens and so would not provide proof of citizenship.

  20. Submitted by William Pappas on 04/30/2011 - 06:26 am.

    Bryan, “democrats placing minorities in a diaper”? Sorry, that’s simply guaranteeing their rights under the constitution that minorities find more challenging than non-minority citizens. Your attitude has become typical to the Republican Party which is why they are loosing the hispanic vote and every other ethnic group. Understand the facts, Bryan, Minnesota’s two recently recounted high profile elctions for Senator and Governor were perhaps the “cleanest” ever recounted in the country. They proved to be absurdly accurate and void of graft, fraud or corruption. The FACT is that there will be many more mistakes by Minnesota officials enforcing voter ID laws than there were ever voters previously voting fraudulently. Accept the facts and the Voter ID argument blows up in your face.

  21. Submitted by Clayton Haapala on 04/30/2011 - 04:50 pm.

    Believing that Voter ID will make elections “cleaner” is like believe that the TSA airport security theater make us “safer”.

  22. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 05/26/2011 - 12:40 am.

    Hey Sally – I sure hope you aren’t for any publicly funded stadiums… 🙂

  23. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 05/26/2011 - 12:46 am.

    So tell me, Ladies and Gentlemen, what exactly is wrong with determining the identification of a voter to ensure they are qualified and they are who claim to be at the polling station?

    Answer: nothing.

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