Voter ID could require new legislation to fill in blanks

Published 11:03 am Monday, October 22, 2012

Graphic by Colby Hansen

By Tim Pugmire

Minnesota Public Radio News

If Minnesota voters approve a constitutional amendment that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls, state lawmakers will still have to sort out many of the details needed to implement the new election system.

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The push for a voter ID requirement has been a deeply partisan battle, so much so that – if the amendment passes — many of the specifics in next year’s legislation could hinge on which party wins control of the House and Senate.

The proposed amendment requires all in-person voters to show a “valid government-issued” photo ID before receiving getting a ballot. It also requires the state provide free identification.

Not yet known is which IDs will be considered valid, how the state will distribute the free ones and how much that will cost.

“If I’m back next year, I certainly would hope that I would be involved in the legislation that will be necessary to implement the constitutional amendment,” said state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, a chief author of the amendment bill.

Newman said he wants to help shape the final product. But as voters prepare to go to the polls on Nov. 6, he doesn’t want anyone trying to fill in the blanks with what he believes are falsehoods about the amendment. Newman has been especially critical of state Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and other Democrats, who claiming that amendment will be overly expensive, could end same-day registration and would make it harder for soldiers to vote.

“That has never been our intention,” Newman said. “That is not going to happen.”

Many Democrats disagree. Among them are State Sen. John Marty, DFL- Roseville, who thinks Republicans are fudging the facts.

Marty said GOP lawmakers made their intentions crystal clear in 2011, when they passed a voter ID bill that Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, later vetoed.

“In that legislation, it spells out what would be required,” Marty said. “No military IDs count. No student IDs count. No passports count. No expired drivers licenses count. Only very limited things that would work.”

The proposed amendment also calls for a new provisional balloting system to accommodate people who show up without an ID, but it doesn’t spell out the process. The 2011 bill gave provisional voters a seven-day window to appear before a county auditor, prove their identity and get their ballot counted.

There are also questions about the ID requirement’s impact on absentee voters who, according to the amendment, will be subject to “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification.”

“I think it’s a big problem,” said state Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park. “I don’t know what it means.”

Simon blames the Republican authors of the amendment bill for not defining that particular phrase or explaining how it might work in the real world. Simon said he thinks the amendment is full of inconsistent and unclear language that could hold up the enabling legislation and lead to lawsuits from voter ID opponents.

“They’re basically sending an engraved invitation for judicial intervention year after year after year if this passes,” he said. “So, there will be no end to the lawsuits. I think there will be many of them, both before actual implementation and after.”

Simon said he thinks a DFL-controlled Legislature could produce a more flexible and a more reasonable way to implement the voter ID requirement, if the amendment passes. But he stressed that Democrats will not try to stand in the way of what voters want.

If Republicans remain in control, they’ll still have to deal with Dayton, who could end up vetoing the enabling legislation if it doesn’t meet his standards.

But state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who sponsored both voter ID measures in the House, said she intends to craft an enabling bill that accommodates all eligible voters. Kiffmeyer said she also expects Dayton to cooperate in the process.

“My commitment is to do everything I can to work with Governor Dayton,” Kiffmeyer said. “When I met with him on my statutory voter ID bill, and I gave him my arguments, he said that’s impressive. He still vetoed it, but he said my arguments were impressive. But that was before it was in the constitution. Once it is in the constitution, and a decision of the people, I expect him to honor that.”

If not, Kiffmeyer said she also is prepared to go to court over voter ID.