Voter ID bill passes Senate

Published 10:25 am Friday, April 29, 2011

By Amanda Lillie
and Trey Mewes

The Minnesota Legislature is one step closer to putting a voter identification bill on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.

The bill would require Minnesotans to present a photo ID before voting in an election. The bill, although meant to minimize cases of voter fraud, may not make it into law, as Dayton has said he will not sign an election reform bill if it does not have bipartisan support.

“I would hope that we would get some bipartisan support on the bill,” said Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea. “Over 80 percent of the population has stated they want it. Overwhelmingly what I’m hearing back is that people want a photo voter ID bill.”

Murray said the bill will be heard in committee Friday morning as a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot — a move that would not require Dayton’s signature.

However, the author of the bill, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, is still working on gaining Democrats’ support, Murray said.

“Mary is continuing to work with different parties here to make this bill better, and making it easier for people to get access to IDs,” he said. “I believe that Mary Kiffmeyer is working very hard to do that. She is being very open with all groups out there to accommodate as many groups as she can while still keeping the bill in good form.”

Republicans contend photo IDs are needed to prevent voter fraud and ensure the integrity of elections.

“The people of Minnesota deserve a system that is safe, secure and has the integrity expectation that every voter would want,” Republican Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, the bill’s sponsor, said during a two-hour debate before the Senate approved it on a 37-26 vote.

People need a photo ID to make a bank transaction, see certain movies, buy a drink at a bar or travel on a commercial airplane, Limmer said, so it isn’t asking too much of would-be voters to “show who you are and where you live” before casting a ballot.

Under the bill, a voter could use a driver’s license, state ID card or student ID, as long as it contains a current address.

The bill would create an extra burden on counties, according to Doug Groh, Mower County Auditor-Treasurer. Groh is a supporter of the voter ID bill, although he opposes a portion of the bill allowing for provisional balloting. If a voter enters a polling place and does not have the proper identification, that person would be able to cast a provisional ballot and prove their identity to the Auditor-Treasurer’s office within five days after the election.

“I can see problems with that,” Groh said. “Current problems as well as future problems.”

The bill also would abolish Minnesota’s system of allowing a registered voter to vouch for someone who doesn’t have identification. Now, a registered voter can vouch for up to 15 people in a precinct. While Groh said there aren’t many vouchers in Mower County, he could see provisional balloting increasing at the polls like absentee voting as.

“Our numbers and our workload for absentee voting has increased,” Groh said. “I can see provisional balloting increasing in the same way.”

If nothing else, provisional ballots cast would stretch out the election process by five to seven days, depending on which legislation passes. Groh thinks that could cause voters to lose faith in the electoral process.

“We want finality (as voters),” Groh said. “You’re not going to have finality, you’re going to create doubt.”

Limmer said the state Department of Public Safety reported that only 144,000 of the state’s 5 million citizens lack photo IDs.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor senators argued the bill is a scheme to suppress voting by the poor, elderly, students, people of color and people with disabilities. Many of those people lack photo IDs. They also are likely to vote Democratic.

“This bill is about putting roadblocks up to the ballot box,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Under the measure, the state would provide a free ID card to any eligible voter who didn’t have one. But DFL senators said many people don’t have the documents, such as birth certificates, required to qualify for a free ID, and some poor people couldn’t afford the fee for getting a birth certificate.

The state conducted intense recounts of the 2008 and 2010 elections for the U.S. Senate and governor and didn’t find a single case of voter impersonation, Bakk said.

A companion photo ID bill is moving through the House and is likely to get a floor vote next week.

The House passed a photo ID bill in 2006, when Republicans were in control, but the Senate DFL majority killed it then, as it has every subsequent year until now, when the GOP has control for the first time in 38 years.

Nine other states require voters to show photo IDs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.