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With final passage, fate of Photo ID constitutional amendment will be up to voters

Sen. Scott Newman talks with Sen. John Howe, who has tried unsuccessfully to broaden acceptable Photo ID language.

It’s now up to Minnesota’s voters to decide if a photo ID should be required at the polls.

The state Senate passed the Republican-backed constitutional amendment 35 to 29 Wednesday afternoon, just hours after the House approved it on a party-line vote.

Passage now requires support from a majority of voters in the November general election. If passed, it would take effect in 2013 and would require legislative action to work out how to implement the measure.

The Senate vote concludes a lengthy political process and represents a major victory for Republican lawmakers who had made the Photo ID measure a key part of their agenda this session.

“This is a very, very important bill,” Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said in support of the legislation. “This is a very significant bill for the state of Minnesota.”

Photo ID faces steep opposition from DFL lawmakers and liberal activists, many of whom voiced their concerns throughout the months-long process that took Photo ID from committee to the ballot.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and his office have opposed the measure both on logistical grounds and because, they argue, it would severely change fundamental aspects of Minnesota’s voting system, including absentee balloting procedures. Specifically, he has said the measure would, in effect, do away with Election Day registration, which has been used by more than 500,000 voters.

Ritchie addressed reporters after the amendment’s passage to explain again his opposition.

Republicans counter that requiring a photo ID at the polls is a common-sense move that improves Minnesota’s election system and protects its integrity. They deny any partisan political intent in pushing the measure.

“This bill … takes that integrity one step further,” Senjem said. “We certainly would never want to disenfranchise anyone. At the same time, I think that we would all fight and die for the integrity of our voting system, and many people have, as we all well know.”

From the start, the amendment’s passage seemed inevitable with Republicans controlling both houses. Democrats vigorously opposed it throughout — from committee hearings to the floor — and Wednesday’s three-hour Senate debate was no different.

DFL opponents raised concerns that Photo ID would disenfranchise elderly, student, disabled and minority voters. They also questioned the constitutionality of a Photo ID requirement, noting that several lawsuits are likely to be filed.

Still, DFL concerns didn’t stop Sen. Scott Newman, the bill’s chief Senate author, from celebrating after the Photo ID measure passed.

“Candidly, I’m very, very happy,” he told reporters after the floor vote. “I think that today was a great day for Minnesota, and it’s a win-win for the voters of the state of Minnesota.”

The amendment passed in the Senate along party lines, too, with one GOP “no” vote from freshman Sen. Jeremy Miller.

Some Republicans and nearly every Democrat have expressed concern about the measure’s language, which requires voters to submit a “government-issued photographic identification” — which, they say, doesn’t offer much leeway for interpretation.

Republicans argue that the measure requires the government to provide a free ID to voters who now lack acceptable identification.

DFLers in the Senate hammered away at other language that requires “substantially equivalent and identity verification” for different types of voting, echoing Ritchie’s concerns about its impact on Election Day registration.

“I think it’s hard to make these kinds of conversations logical,” Ritchie said, referring to the people and election systems the amendment could harm. “I think it’s very broad who it will affect.”

Along with Photo ID comes provisional balloting, a practice that Republicans would like to use to replace the current Election Day system that allows a registered voter at the polls to vouch for the identify of an unregistered voter.

 Under the new system, if a voter doesn’t have the correct identification, he or she could vote provisionally and then present valid ID later.

But Ritchie and Democrats criticized provisional balloting as a vast new bureaucracy that elections officials would have to navigate. DFLers also questioned the equity and precedent that the amendment set.

“We’ve been a beacon for the rest of the country, a shining light for folks who are trying to expand that promise, that vision, that hope, that our country and its 50 states represent,” DFL Sen. Scott Dibble said. “Members, please vote red. This is your legacy.”

The Democrats’ one hope to expand the acceptable types of ID that a voter could submit died with a proposal from GOP Sen. John Howe.

When the Senate first passed the Photo ID measure, it included language that allowed voters to present “government-issued photographic identification” or an “equivalent.” Howe said his language gave future lawmakers more leeway to write the measure’s enacting legislation.

Howe’s amendment passed 63 to 3 at the time, which Democrats argued was a strong Senate opinion that should have been fought for in conference committee.

But when the conference committee convened on Monday, Newman and House author Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer already had worked out in private a compromise that didn’t include the Howe provision.

Howe voted with Democrats on Wednesday in an attempt to send the bill back to conference committee, but it failed along near party lines.

“We have an official Senate position on Sen. Howe’s amendment which evaporated in conference committee,” DFL Sen. Ron Latz said. “The Senate got rolled. The Senate got rolled by the House. We ought to be embarrassed.”

Although Howe had previously been critical of Republicans for not adopting his changes, he spoke in favor of the bill on Wednesday.

“I’m going to respect the process we have here today, and I’m going to support House File 2738,” he said.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/04/2012 - 08:33 pm.

    A victory for honest elections

    No more “zombie voters.”

    • Submitted by Christa Moseng on 04/05/2012 - 05:00 am.

      To the contrary

      This bill doesn’t go far enough. There is absolutely nothing in the language that prevents people from imagining there are “zombie voters.”

      Since this is all about people’s unfounded fears, and not about actually addressing a real problem—as the senate author conceded during debate—the bill should have included compulsory psychotherapy for every voter who votes for this Rorschach test of a ballot question. Without it, we can be sure to be chasing down ghosts with our election policy from now until forever, trying to appease paranoiacs who are willfully ignorant of how our election system actually works.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/05/2012 - 09:32 am.

      Your imagination

      Yeah… see, the thing about that is, it’s not a thing.

  2. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/04/2012 - 10:36 pm.

    The republicans have solution

    The problem is there is no problem for their solution. Another big government idea from the small government party. There is absolutely no connection with their rhetoric and their actions. See if you can’t waste some more time between now and November because you are making it an easy choice for the voters of Minnesota. The voters will keep voting until we get politician who are willing to work for all the people of Minnesota.

  3. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 04/05/2012 - 04:39 am.


    The GOP is making a mockery of the amendment process. They cite that 70 to 80% of the population, acccording to polls, support the ID amendment, but they will not always be in the majority in the house and senate. Over 80% of Minnesotans also want a more progressive income tax system that targets the top 5% of the population, and should an amendment be proposed for that matter in the future we’ll hear the howls of class warfare, blah, blah, blah.

    A constitution should be difficult to amend, just as the recall process in some states should not be lax and result in numerous elections.

  4. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 04/05/2012 - 06:11 am.

    Statistics and My Story

    The following paragraph is quoted from an article from THE TICKET, posted March 22, 2012 on Yahoo News online: “Voter ID laws spark partisan controversy,” by Rachel Rose Hartman.

    “The Brennan Center last October estimated that over 5 million voters could be disenfranchised in 2012 due to stricter voting rights legislation, and that was prior to several additional states passing voter ID laws. On the other side of the issue, cases of fraud that have been identified in the legal system are much lower. In the last major election cycle, 2010 in Florida, PolitiFact found that there were 10 cases of potential voter fraud under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”

    Let’s suppose there are 10 cases of voter fraud in every state, in every election. That brings the number of cases to 500 nationwide. Now divide that number by 5 MILLION. The result is 10,000.

    10,000. That’s the factor by which honest voters will exceed the fraudulent ones kept from voting by proposed voter ID laws in states across the country.

    I don’t know whether we can make this point clear enough. Unfortunately, the fear mongers have already done their work. They have evoked the specter of the fraudulent voter, and this is a scary image, like lightning. Who cares if fraudulent voters are about as rare as lightning? A feeble mind, once it has learned to fear, may refuse to learn anything more. It is an effect that the author Dan Gardner has called “denominator blindness.” The Voter ID scam also has a big advertising budget behind it, to keep the fear alive.

    Nonetheless, I will try to do my part to fight for democracy in my time. The following is my own true story about voting.

    During the summer of 2008, I registered to vote on a bus. An volunteer with ACORN, then a very active community organization, gave me documents to fill out. I was pleased to have the opportunity to do so, because my wife and I had recently moved.

    When I went to cast my vote – intended for Barack Obama – in that historic election year, I was confident that I had registered long in advance and would find my name on the registry, duly identifying me as a new resident of Dakota County. Much to my dismay, the poll worker did not find my name there. Apparently, the bureaucracy was slow in updating its list of newly registered voters. Fortunately, one of my poll workers was a neighbor – in fact, he was David Hoppe, a member of my church – and he was willing to take the time to track my name down. It was found in a separate database.

    I like a system of voter identification that empowers neighbors to vouch for neighbors, so that neighbors can help their neighbors vote. I dislike a system of voter identification that would deny me the right to vote until I produced a government-issued piece of plastic. That system is likely to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters like me, simply because they, for one reason or another, have no picture ID, have recently moved, and will still be waiting for their new government-issued piece of plastic to come through the mail when it comes time to vote. But isn’t their right to vote as important as mine?

    The number of voters who try to commit fraud at the polls is vanishingly small. According to the best research we have, Voter ID laws will disenfranchise a much larger number of honest voters than fraudulent ones. This is a cure that is so obviously worse than the disease that everybody should consider it a textbook example of bad government. Accepting the disenfranchisement of so many eligible voters in exchange for the dubious benefit of giving one’s own political party an advantage over others in the next election is a shameful betrayal of democracy itself.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 04/05/2012 - 08:56 am.


      “Who cares if fraudulent voters are about as rare as lightning?”

      I meant, of course: Who cares if fraudulent voters are as rare as DEATH caused by lightning?

      Lightning that harmlessly strikes inanimate objects is actually quite common, of course, as any meteorologist knows. It is certainly more common than voter fraud.

  5. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 04/05/2012 - 08:43 am.

    Will the Republicans

    Now have time to put an amendment on the ballot to forbid fornication in gov’t buildings, especially the capitol.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/05/2012 - 09:34 am.

      It is probably the case…

      … that that is more common than voter fraud, even if you only include fornication by Republicans.

  6. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 04/05/2012 - 09:09 am.

    Love that picture

    Of Rep. Sen. Newman and Sen. Howe. Howe is receiving orders to vote for the ID amendment or face banishment from the party.

  7. Submitted by Tim Milner on 04/05/2012 - 09:37 am.

    It’s not fraud

    that I am worried about. I completely agree that there is little evidence of fraud (by that I mean willful actions taken to deceive) in our election process.

    It’s more a matter votes cast in the wrong place that gets me worried.

    The glory of our country being based on a representative government is that the people who live in the state/county/city/precinct get to vote on the people who represent them. People running for office who live in the same area as do I.

    My kids have just finished college and have voted, by absentee ballot, in our home precinct. But I have to tell you that many of their friends voted in the precinct where there college was located.

    If you are OK with a student from Chicago living in a dorm at the University of St Thomas having the same vote in a local election as a person living in the Merriam Park neighborhood, then voter ID is really not needed. But I suggest that, in some ways, that Merriam Park resident’s vote is being “disenfranchised” by the student’s vote.

    If you think this is not OK, then some form of voter ID is required to prove your permanent residency. Is it the amendment being proposed? I’m not so sure – I would have liked to seen more flexibility in the available documents. Is it more than a neighbor vouching for another? For me, yes it is. But what is the exact “sweet spot” for ID requirements. I’m still not sure.

    I think I find myself in the middle of this debate – like a majority of Minnesotans. Feel the need for more, not so sure this amendment is the right amount. It will be an very interesting vote in what will be a very high turnout election.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/05/2012 - 02:22 pm.

      Why Not?

      Why shouldn’t a student be able to vote where they live and go to school? The local laws affect them as much as they do anyone else who lives there.

      Soon we will be asking why renters should be able to vote. After all, they don’t have the same stake in the community owners do.

      It’s quit clear to me. The amendment serves ONLY to restrict who can vote. By definition it will disenfranchise people. That is the only reason I need to vote no.

  8. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/05/2012 - 09:54 am.

    What ID counts?

    Will a U of M student from South Dakota be able to vote in Minneapolis, as is their constitutional right? The Supreme Court has ruled college students can vote in their college town where they live, but they have an out of state DL.

    So, intrepid voting protectors, how are you going to protect the voting rights of college students?

    A vote suppressed is just as bad as a fraudulent vote.

  9. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 04/05/2012 - 08:03 pm.

    It won’t work

    There are at least 17 ways a person can commit voter fraud with a valid MN DL or a state issued photo ID. There are probably more but I quit counting after 15 minutes. Keep in mind that you do not need tobe a resident of MN or of the United States to get a MN DL or state issued photo id. Also one of the first things that a person does when they are released from prison is get a valid ID, either a DL or photo ID. There is no way to tell from either one whether or not the person can vote.. The other problem that exists is that when one applies for either a MN DL or a photo ID, the state does not verify that the documents you are presenting are real or fraudulent, so even an illegal immigrant can could vote. Also the MN DL or photo ID does not necessarily have your correct address on it. A person has 60 days after one moves to change or update their DL, but there is no law that says one has to update the photo ID. Also one can have many state issued ID’s if they want to pay for them, all with different addresses. I know a person who is blind and he has moved 4 times in the last few years and has a photo ID for each address he has lived at. The state doesn’t have you turn the old one in. While I was writing this I came up with another way that I hadn’t thought of so I have to raise the number to 18. Enough said, it won’t work.

  10. Submitted by David Mensing on 04/10/2012 - 09:35 am.

    Consequences of Passing this Proposal

    1) According to the real SoS, same-day registration is in jeopardy. 2) Student voting will at least be suppressed and many could be disenfranchised. 3) Some super-elderly (80+) will be disenfranchised, many more will face severe hardships in order to vote. 4) There will be confusion, if not outright mayhem, over absentee ballots. 5) A great sum of money will be spent to protect us from a problem that is so minor as to be inconsequential. 6) Provisional ballots will be cast, but not counted.

    If this proposal passes, voters will be disenfranchised. Elderly who no longer drive won’t have IDs and some won’t have any way to be transported to a county seat to get a free ID. Some will let a friend or relative know and get their ID, many won’t bother and won’t vote. Confusion will reign with student voting. Most freshman won’t have a Photo ID and won’t bother to check into it until it is too late to cast any ballot, including an absentee ballot. Depending on how the supporting legislation is worded, there won’t be any way to register at the polls and have those registered there get their ballots counted.

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