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GOP ramps up push for photo ID at Minn. polls

ST. PAUL — Republican legislators pushed ahead Wednesday with their effort to make voters present photo identification at the polls, hoping to use their new political muscle to achieve a long-held election law goal.

The proposal outlined at a Capitol news conference seeks to neutralize previous constitutional qualms over an ID requirement by providing free cards upon request. Detractors have argued that requiring someone to pay for an ID equates to an illegal poll tax.

The bill has a good shot in the Republican-controlled Legislature but could be a tougher sell with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. If it doesn’t get past the governor, proponents could attempt to put the proposal to voters as a constitutional amendment

“I’m really hopeful that the governor will recognize that 80 percent of Minnesotans want photo ID and the added value of electronic rosters,” said the measure’s chief sponsor, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. “I’ll make every effort meet with the governor, talk to him, demonstrate equipment and seek his support.”

Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state, contends the proposal will streamline voting and bolster public confidence in elections. Democrats raised fears about polling place intimidation and voter suppression as well as the cost of making the conversion.

The bill would have the state purchase electronic ID card readers for local governments and provide free photo IDs to those who can’t afford them. Sponsors didn’t provide an estimate of the cost, saying one is on the way.

They argued the bill would save counties and cities from costs of data entry and postal verification and would offset the costs in as few as three years.

Democrats criticized the bill as saddling the already-stretched state budget with millions in new costs, with only cities and counties seeing savings. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office estimated the cost of the machines at more than $20 million; Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said providing free identification would add substantially to the cost.

“We have a $6.2 billion deficit, and this bill adds millions in untold spending — not to mention dozens of pages of government regulation and bureaucracy,” Simon said.

Eight states currently require a photo ID to vote, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, and several more are considering bills this year, including Wisconsin, Texas, Missouri and Kansas. Missouri, which has a population comparable to Minnesota, estimated the cost of free IDs at around $1.4 million in the first year and an additional $830,000 over the subsequent two years.

U.S. passports and military IDs would no longer be valid under the bill and free IDs could only be picked up at Driver and Vehicle Services centers, which opponents said could be difficult for people who live far from licensing centers.

Kiffmeyer said the new system would improve voter turnout by reducing lines and registration hassles.

Voter would arrive, swipe their ID, sign a receipt and immediately vote. Unlike current voting receipts, these receipts would specifically identify the voter and carry a signature, so polling officials could definitively compare the number of receipts and votes. Results from precincts where receipts and votes don’t add up would be reviewed by canvassing board.

“These receipts have meaning and value to truly reconcile the number of voters,” Kiffmeyer said, referring to GOP concerns over discrepancies between votes and receipts in the governor’s race recount this fall.

The bill would also create a system for provisional ballots if someone’s eligibility is challenged or they cannot provide an ID. The system would require the person subject to the challenge to appear before election officials within a week to argue for their ballot to be counted.