Voter I.D. amendment headed to ballot

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie gestures while taking a question from the media today. Ritchie depicts the impact of the passage of the Photo ID amendment by voters as huge. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment will be on the November ballot.

The Senate today (April 4) took the final step in placing the proposed amendment before voters by approving the Photo ID conference committee report on a 35-29 vote.

One Republican, Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, voted against the amendment.

A Democratic attempt to send the report back to conference committee failed.

The House passed the Photo ID report after midnight on a 72-57 party-line vote.

In presenting the legislation to the Senate, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, Senate bill author, indicated he expected legal challenges with the legislation.

Speaking in carefully worded phrases to make plain legislative intent, Newman pointed to the months between potential passage of the amendment and its application to the Nov, 5, 2013, election and all elections thereafter as allowing for voter education and time for voters without photo IDs to obtain one.

Newman explained the intention to provide for provisional balloting, but not to count provisional ballots before the voters prove who they say they are.

He spoke of the elimination of vouching — one voter vouching for the residency of another — calling the practice “ready made for voter fraud.”

Voter fraud occurs in Minnesota, but it’s like to trying to catch a “puff of smoke,” Newman explained, speaking after the floor vote.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, criticized the use of a constitutional amendment to advance the Photo ID initiate.

Lawmakers don’t get a “re-do” with amendments, he argued.

If approved by voters, they are essentially written in indelible ink in law and can remain in the state constitutional for many years.

“Does this make sense?” he asked.

He’s not suggesting amendment supporters are out to disenfranchise some voters, “but it might very well be the effect,” Latz said.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, was more blunt, arguing that the Photo ID initiative has been advanced “with the intent to disenfranchise traditional DFL voters.”

“Ballot after ballot will not be counted,” he said.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, supports the idea of voter verification, she said. But she questioned the approach Photo ID advocates were taking, indicating she expected court challenges.

Indeed, she expects to be back on the Senate floor debating Photo ID once again, Bonoff explained.

“I just think it’s shameful,” said Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, of passage of the proposed amendment.

“I just think it’s a sad day,” she said, speaking after the floor vote.

Sen. Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, argued the state would be on the hook for the cost of providing thousands of free photo IDs to voters.

Moreover, there’s no comparison between needing to provide a photo ID to cash a check or use a credit card and needing to provide one to voting.

“Voting take place once a year, or every other year,” said Kelash.

He called Photo ID an  “undue burden for no good reason.”

Republican senators felt differently.

Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan, a military veteran, dismissed the idea Photo ID would make it harder for military members on active duty to vote.

“Providing proof of identify is not burdensome,” said Daley.

Sen. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, said participating in democracy demands “thinking and acting in advance.”

“The fact is people need a photo ID for nearly every activity in life,” said Jungbauer.

“There are no hurdles here,” he said of Photo ID.

He styled the requirement for photo identification to vote an “extremely minimal” burden.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, qualified DFL rhetoric about lawmakers writing in the state constitution in indelible ink.

“We’re giving a chance to voters to write in the state constitutional in indelible ink,” he said.

Speaking after the floor session, Limmer dismissed the idea Photo ID grew out of Republican angst over losing recent close elections such as the Franken/Coleman U.S. Senate contest.

His push for Photo ID predated those elections, said Limmer.

“We’ll win,” he said of the November vote.

Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, spoke of Photo ID as an attempt to inspire voter confidence in the integrity of the election system.

But Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie suggested passage of the amendment would throw the state’s election system into

Any big change in election law should reflect bipartisan support, and Photo ID lacks that, he argued.

But the genesis of Photo ID isn’t new, he indicated.

“Absolutely not,” Ritchie said when asked whether the amendment grew out of Franken/Coleman.

A “drumbeat” against same-day voter registration has been beating for a decade, he argued..

Ritchie styled assertions the true intent of Photo ID was to target DFL voter constituencies as missing the point.

It will affect many different groups — Republicans using absentee voting, for instance, Ritchie explained.

“So I think it’s very broad with what it will affect,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in a statement criticized the proposed amendment.

“This is a partisan amendment based on a false premise that voter fraud is a significant problem in Minnesota,” he said.

“Our election system is the best in the nation.  We have the highest voter turnout year after year and under intense, bipartisan scrutiny, the recent statewide recounts have highlighted how reliable the results are,” said Dayton.

Although Dayton may criticize the proposed amendment, he cannot stop it. Governors cannot veto proposed constitutional amendments.

On the Senate floor, Newman expressed regret that not a single Democratic vote had been cast for Photo ID thus far.

He regretted it, he explained, because they’re not trying to target anyone other than those attempting to vote illegally.

The question to voters on the November ballot will read:

“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?”

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