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Rep. Kiffmeyer, former Gov. Carlson clash on voting amendment’s costs and effects

The two former Republican executive branch members now differ sharply on what the proposed constitutional amendment will do to the state’s voting procedures.

Participating in the debate were, from left, Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and Carolyn Jackson of the Minnesota ACLU.
MinnPost photo by James Nord

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer and former Gov. Arne Carlson were once both Republican members of the executive branch, but the two now differ sharply on at least one issue critical to the November elections: Minnesota’s proposed voting amendment.

Carlson, co-chair of the coalition opposing the constitutional amendment, and Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state who sponsored the measure, squared off at a Tuesday night forum, offering vastly different scenarios about its potential costs and effects.

They clashed not only on the amendment’s price tag but also on whether it would disenfranchise voters or combat fraud.

Kiffmeyer teamed with Dan McGrath of pro-amendment group Minnesota Majority to defend the proposal, while Carlson and Carolyn Jackson of the ACLU argued against it before a packed house at the Maplewood City Hall.

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“I haven’t seen you in Republican circles for a while, so it’s nice to see you again,” a smiling Kiffmeyer told Carlson, who broke with the party to support Independence Party candidate Tom Horner’s 2010 gubernatorial bid.

The forum proved livelier and the audience more engaged than in a similar debate in St. Paul last week. But messaging from both sides remained the same.

McGrath and Kiffmeyer attempted to beat back opponents’ “apocalyptic” predictions that the amendment would dramatically alter same-day voter registration and procedures for military and absentee voting.

Carlson and Jackson hammered away against proponents’ claims of widespread voter fraud.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Kiffmeyer claimed that many of the cost estimates for implementing voter ID are overstated.

“The photo ID amendment will add integrity to our election system,” Kiffmeyer, who was secretary of state from 1998 to 2006, said at the start of the forum. “My motive and my mission are about the integrity of the election system.”

She said the amendment would cost only in the low millions to implement, largely to provide free IDs to those who need it and to launch educational campaigns about the procedures. Otherwise, proponents said, very little about Minnesota’s voting system would change other than the elimination of same-day vouching for unregistered voters at the polls.

Carlson and Jackson offered a wildly different picture of the amendment’s impact.

The former governor, who served from 1991 to 1999, cited a study estimating the cost at roughly $100 million. He and Jackson also warned audience members that the amendment could represent a “radical overhaul of our election system” by hindering absentee balloting and requiring all Election Day registrants to cast two-step provisional ballots.

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Gov. Arne Carlson
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Gov. Arne Carlson rejected the dark picture painted by amendment proponents.

Voting amendment proponents “have been painting a picture that is dark and getting darker by the minute,” Carlson said. “They would have you believe there are criminals hiding behind the voting booth.”

Projecting the costs and consequences of the amendment are difficult because, if passed, lawmakers will have to agree to specific enabling legislation during the 2013 legislative session. Although recent polls show support for the amendment has waned some, it still remains ahead a month before the Nov. 6 elections.

Kiffmeyer said lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton would have a constitutional mandate to enact that legislation on time if it passes.

“To think that liars, cheaters and stealers exist all around us but somehow only angels come to vote is naive and lacks common sense,” she said. “The Photo ID amendment will keep it easy to vote but hard to cheat.”