Special report: Voter ID splits AustinitesPublished 12:33pm Monday, October 29, 2012
Question: Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?
Voter ID amendment quick facts:
—If the voter ID amendment does not pass, the voting system would remain as-is.slid
—If the voter ID amendment passes, voters would be required to present a government-issued photo ID before receiving a ballot. If a voter cannot provide that ID, he or she could instead submit a provisional ballot that must then be certified. Absentee voters would be subject to the same ID and eligibility verification
as in-person voters.
—There is no neutrality on the ballot. Those who vote but don’t check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are essentially ‘no’ votes, since the amendment needs a majority of all votes cast to pass, not a majority of the votes cast for the amendment.
Voter ID amendment a question of fraud, access
Minnesotans will use their vote next month to determine their own voting future.
The voter ID amendment, which approaches on the Nov. 6 ballot, has the state of Minnesota firmly divided. Voters must decide whether to keep the election system the way it is, or push for stricter requirements, which include showing a government-issued photo ID, to be permanently added to the state’s constitution.
For many, it comes down to voter fraud, which Mower DFL Co-chair Wanda Lunning says is a non-issue.
“We have little if any fraud that happens,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to fix something that isn’t broken.”
Mower County Auditor Doug Groh, in a September interview, shared a similar view.
“In Mower County, I do not have a concern in the integrity of our elections,” he said.
But retired Austin resident and former Mower GOP deputy chair Charles Mills disagreed, saying almost 200 felons have been convicted of voter fraud in Minnesota since the 2008 presidential election.
“This will not specifically correct that; however, it puts more integrity in the election process,” he said.
Of the 22,000 or so same-day voter registrations at the 2008 election, Mills said, more than 6,400 voter verification cards were returned because the address was unknown. These sites ended up being parks, freeways, vacant lots and fast food restaurants, he said. Additionally, about 2 million registered voters in the nation are actually dead, and others fall under names like “Osama BinLaden” and “Mickey Mouse.”
“If someone had to prove who they are, we wouldn’t have these issues,” he said.
The unknown margin created by voter fraud can be a deciding factor, Mills said. He points to the governor race in 2010 and the Coleman-Franken race as close calls whose outcomes could have been changed with stricter voter ID regulations.
Mills said he was disturbed by those who would oppose the idea. Mills said the requirement of getting an ID card would help those who need them in other ways, too. EBT cards and some government-granted assistance will soon require those who use them to show an ID. Getting Minnesota residents a free voter ID, which the language of the amendment requires, will help them meet those standards.
“They can be a more integrated person in society,” he said.
The transition could be difficult for seniors who lack mobility or a valid driver’s license, and Mills said the effects on that demographic should not go unnoticed.
“All of us are going to have to work to make sure they get the proper documentation and assist them,” he said.
Lunning said she was concerned about the misinformation going around. Some voters who intend to vote against a required photo ID have been told they should vote ‘yes,’ she said, while others are simply confused on what a ‘yes’ vote means. In fact, a ‘no’ vote would keep the current voting system in place, while a ‘yes’ vote would add requirements such as a photo ID.
According to a Carnegie-Knight News21 project on election fraud, fraud has occurred but is infinitesimal. A MinnPost story on the findings noted in the last 12 years Minnesota has had 10 total cases of reported fraud and no cases of voter impersonation.
“There is absolutely no evidence that [voter impersonation fraud] has affected the outcome of any election in the United States, at least any recent election in the United States,” said David Schultz, professor of public policy at Hamline University School of Business in St. Paul.
The cost of enforcing the voter ID amendment would depend on specifics that would not be determined until after it passes.
“You have a wide range of estimates,” said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Proponents of the amendment estimate the new system could cost $40 million to introduce, while opponents, academic institutions and associations of counties, cities and townships place the figure closer to $60 million, he said.
More specific estimates have been done by most local officials, including in Mower County. To adhere to the new standards, the county would have to purchase new, modern voting machines for precincts. Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh said in September a new electronic voting machines could cost $56,800 for the cheaper model or $140,900 for the more expensive model — which could mean anywhere from about $4.60 to $8.80 per local voter.
Additional implementation costs — like supplies, ballots and election judge fees — could raise the cost of the modern voting machines to about $92,600 on the low end and $176,600 on the high end.
The more expensive machines would connect to Groh’s office and the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office for real-time results. Groh said the county would likely opt for the cheaper model, as many township halls don’t have Internet access.
“These all represent little tiny parts of this very big and comprehensive proposal,” Ritchie said. “People would like to know the cost. If you have many different components, this becomes much more complicated.”
While he agrees there will be some startup costs to get it running smoothly, Mills said he thinks many of the multi-million-dollar estimates were exaggerated.
The ability to vote for certain groups of people could be stifled by the amendment, Lunning said. She pointed to people who move around often, like college students, whose permanent addresses may be different than their on-campus ones, and those who recently moved would have to get their license or ID changed before the election.
“You’ve got your address issues; you’ve got your absentee issues,” Lunning said. “It’s putting us back 40 years in voting.”
Mills said concerns about restricting voters were unfounded. Military members who serve overseas, for example, have a military ID that already qualifies as sufficient for the state’s purposes.
“These are the types of distortions that have been generated,” he said.
But Ritchie pointed to problems getting that ID verified as being the real issue in sending an absentee ballot in. The amendment would require absentee ballots to be subject to “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification” before they can be counted.
“How would you, in Bagdad, go out and find a notary public?” Ritchie said. “How much would that cost?”
Mail-in ballots used by many small towns would be subject to the same identity checks, meaning residents living in areas without polling places would need to travel to the county auditor’s office to ensure their vote was counted. More than 500 townships use all mail-in voting, Ritchie said.
A resident driving from Racine would have to cover 61 miles round-trip to make it to the office; LeRoy, 59 miles; and Grand Meadow, 43 miles.
The amendment could cause some delays in voting results, Groh said. If a voter moves and doesn’t have photo ID finalized, his or her vote could be held as provisional. This could cause delays in determining the winner of a close election.
“We’re looking at a minimum of a 10-day delay to find out what the results are while they process the provisional votes,” Lunning said.
A permanent change
Lunning said the amendment is badly worded and would leave a lot of kinks for the House and Senate to work out if it passes. Unlike laws put through the Legislature, it would also be difficult to undo.
“If, later on down the road, people realize what a terrible mistake this was, it’s going to take a lot longer to get rid of that amendment than it was to get it in,” she said.
Lunning compared it to Prohibition, where the amendment was meant to prevent the manufacture and sale of alcohol but had the unforeseen effect of bolstering organized crime.
Ritchie shared her concern about hidden ramifications.
“The reason we have the Legislature and the process of the Legislature is that as human beings we can’t imagine all the consequences,” Ritchie said. “You are talking about something that is permanently fixed.”
Minnesota is unique in that it has the lowest criteria for amending its constitution out of any state in the country, Ritchie added.
While other states have already adopted voter ID restrictions, every one of them includes automatic and universal exemptions for many types of voters, he said. While these were brought up in the Legislature, they were all rejected. The amendment clearly states all voters will be held to the same standard, and won’t allow for tweaks or fixes after becoming law.
For Mills, the amendment would benefit the state, strengthening its voting system.
“We need to put integrity back into our election process,” he said.
—Jason Schoonover contributed to this report.