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Inevitable passage of Voter ID follows 9-hour Minnesota House debate

Shortly after 2 a.m. today, lawmakers voted along party lines to place the controversial constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer

Lawmakers debated for nine hours — including four hours over a one-word amendment to Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer’s Voter ID bill — before the inevitable, and the expected, took place.

Shortly after 2 a.m. today, the Minnesota House voted along party lines 72 to 62 to place the controversial constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

This year, Republican lawmakers are using the amendment route to bypass Gov. Mark Dayton, who last session vetoed a Voter ID bill.

So far, this year’s plan has passed out of a committee in each chamber on party-line votes.

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The Senate bill still has a committee stop – likely today — before it hits the floor for what’s likely to be another contentious, and repetitive, debate.

Once Republican leaders made it clear early this session that Voter ID was a priority, it has seemed only a matter of time before the issue ended up on the fall ballot.

That inevitability, though, didn’t stop House DFLers from trying to derail or weaken Voter ID provisions during Tuesday night’s debate.

DFL House members offered amendment after amendment – 15 in total. All of them were voted down.

During the debate, lawmakers from both parties put on all the theatrics they could, arguing for and against the measure.

A tweet storm started early Tuesday in anticipation of the vote, just one day after a combative Rules Committee hearing brought the proposal to the floor. Citizens opposing the measure lined the area outside the door to the House chambers, which police had blocked off.

Familiar arguments

After debate started at 5 p.m., the two sides quickly staked out their familiar positions.

“The great likelihood is we will have eligible Minnesota voters who will be prohibited from voting,” DFL Rep. Terry Morrow told his colleagues. “I honestly believe to the core of my soul that this is wrong.”

Democrats and opponents argue that the measure requiring voters to show a photo ID will disenfranchise many of the state’s poor, elderly, disabled and student voters.

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 Advocates counter that Voter ID is a common-sense, widely supported way to increase election integrity in Minnesota.

“This constitutional amendment says it’ll still be easy to vote, but it’ll be hard to cheat,” Kiffmeyer told her colleagues.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean called “absurd” three of the amendments offered by DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler.

In one of his proposals, Winkler attempted to erase the Voter ID language and replace it with Gov. Mark Dayton’s jobs plan, a measure to pay back the K-12 school shift and a tax credit program.

Wiinkler called Voter ID an “absurd constitutional amendment” in response. “I thought that would make it germane to an absurd bill,” he said.

At one point, one DFLer went around the chamber and asked his colleagues if they knew him, even though they’d never seen his ID.

MinnPost photo by James NordProtesters hold signs outside of the House chamber criticizing Voter ID on Tuesday.

In the beginning, Republicans attempted to silence dissent by appealing to Speaker Kurt Zellers through the House rules, but eventually the Democrats won out, and the session stretched on.

Republicans, who often appeared bored throughout the proceedings, seemed resigned to a long night.

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It soon became clear that if they couldn’t get their amendments passed, the DFLers at least were going to spend a lot of time criticizing Voter ID before a final vote.

“I already told my wife that the debate is going to go until 6 in the morning,” one GOP representative remarked to another as Kiffmeyer introduced her bill.

‘Arms race’ ahead?

DFLers warned Republicans that passing the Voter ID amendment was “the legislative equivalent of the nuclear option.”

Rep. Steve Simon, who proposed many alterations to the measure, said that Republicans might have to watch out for a deluge of constitutional amendments if Democrats regain control of the Legislature.

“This is it,” he said. “You are starting an arms race that I think you’ll regret.”

Simon pleaded with the Republicans to have “impulse control” and recall the amendment, or he said Democrats likely wouldn’t show the same restraint they have in the past when it comes to future ballot questions.

“This fight didn’t have to escalate,” he said.

“I know that all Democrats will probably vote against it and all Republicans will probably vote for it,” but pass Voter ID for the right reasons, Simon said, “not because you can, not because it feels good, not because you have the votes.”

‘Bunch of gibberish’

Democrats also criticized Kiffmeyer for not truthfully answering their questions or seriously considering their amendments.

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They expressed concern that her amendment’s provisions don’t offer guidance on writing a more specific follow-up law next session. Because constitutional amendments are required to use general language when they go before voters, many of Kiffmeyer’s responses to questions were variations of “Wait till next year.”

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However, Winkler and other legislators who are attorneys said that without specific language allowing the Legislature to create more tailored legislation, the courts would be forced to interpret the new Voter ID language.

“Your amendment causes problems that you won’t acknowledge,” Winkler said.

DFL lawmakers repeatedly criticized Kiffmeyer for her lack of specific answers to their questions about how Voter ID would affect Election Day registration and absentee and mail-in balloting. They also wanted to know how a new provisional balloting system implemented under the law would work.

“We didn’t even get a maybe,” DFL Rep. Kerry Gauthier said, criticizing Kiffmeyer’s answers. “We just got a bunch of gibberish.”

Both sides also vehemently disagreed over the need for the amendment. DFLers disputed claims that widespread voter fraud exists in Minnesota, and Republicans challenged them to bring forward examples of people who would be disenfranchised.

Most of the DFL amendments dealt with specific language they said would make the bill clearer and more effective, but each one was shot down roughly along party lines.

“You had amendment after amendment to make this more reasonable, more palatable,” Simon said. “You’re firing a missile, and you’re starting a war that I believe you’re going to regret starting,”

‘The thread of my life’

Kiffmeyer, whos served as secretary of state until Mark Ritchie ousted her, is a longtime supporter of Voter ID.

“I started supporting Photo ID when I was an election judge,” she said after the amendment passed. “This is no situation of recentness by any means.”

So, to the Republican from Big Lake, criticism that her support for Voter ID stems from her place in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council rings hollow.

Kiffmeyer, who has worked as a nurse, said the late-night debate energized her. She said she’s proud of her work on election integrity, especiallyVoter ID.

“It seems the thread of my life has had a lot to do with that,” she said. “It’ll probably be a very important part of serving this Legislature,”

But her thoughts after the House had adjourned hinted at the partisan divide that the Democrats had criticized all along.

“As the evening went on, I got more and more convinced,” she said. “Though, contrary to what they were saying, those of us here, the more they did that, the more they did things, the more we felt confident. The more we were energized.”