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Republicans, League of Women Voters go at it over Voter ID

Discourse over the proposed constitutional amendment has widened into open antagonism.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer

The author of a proposed constitutional amendment to require a photo ID when voting is offering an olive branch to the bill’s most vocal opponent.

“When this passes… I would expect the League of Women Voters to work with us,” said state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, Republican from Big Lake.

The League is not accepting. “If it passes the Legislature, we will continue to educate voters.  If it passes [in November], we will have to take a look at both options — try to make it work or go to court,” says Laura Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota.

For Minnesota Republicans, the debate over photo ID legislation has placed the League of Women Voters in the ranks of Common Cause and the ACLU.  Discourse has widened into open antagonism.

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“They packed a recent committee hearing to pitch lies,” is how Minnesota Majority, a pro-Republican grass roots organization, describes the League’s efforts to oppose voter ID. 

“A video scam,” is how the League describes the undercover video on voter impersonation by James O’Keefe, the activist who helped dismantle ACORN. 

Kiffmeyer and Wang dutifully lob their arguments, back and forth: Close elections require scrutiny of every vote. It’s difficult to get an ID without identification. The League has lost all of its court challenges, including with the U.S. Supreme Court. That ruling can be challenged now that the laws have shown undesirable consequences.

But in the end, Republicans are convinced that the League’s objection is more than policy or politics. It’s partisanship. 

“The once-independent but now agenda-driven League of Women Voters,” is how GOP state Rep. Keith Downey describes the League in a newsletter to residents in his moderate Edina district. “The League’s position on photo ID is just one small part of its overall policy agenda.”

‘‘If you look at the politics, the League takes positions that fall in line with a certain political party,” said Kiffmeyer, whose experiences with the League of Women Voters dates back to her days as Minnesota secretary of state. “A long time ago the League was less partisan. They are coasting on their reputation. How can we trust them to moderate a candidate forum? A hidden agenda as become an obvious agenda.”

Wang doesn’t disagree that that the tone of the debate has changed. “This is longstanding issue at the state Capitol that has turned into a partisan issue,” she said. “The debate has really ramped up.”

She defended the League’s positions. “We’ve built relationships; there will be opportunities to work together. We’ve always placed a premium on civil discourse and non-partisanship,” she said. “I think we have shown the ability to maintain our relationships and maintain our integrity.”

But the battle over Voter ID will be an extended one that promises to further frost over relationships between Republicans and the League of Women Voters.