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Proposed photo ID amendment: partisan, extreme, costly, wrong for Minnesota

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, June 29, 2012

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesotans voting November 6 will be asked to vote yes or no on a constitutional amendment to radically alter the way Minnesota votes.

The first thing to know about the proposed amendment is that it is not a “good government” reform measure. Instead, it is a highly partisan measure which passed both the Minnesota House and Senate without one single vote from Democrats. Only Republicans voted for the amendment.

Constitutional amendments go straight to the November ballot, so Governor Mark Dayton could not veto the measure, but he strongly condemned it. He noted: “Previous Governors Arne Carlson and Tim Pawlenty [both Republicans] have said correctly that significant changes to our elections processes should not occur through partisan contrivances, but only with broad bipartisan support.”

The question that will appear on the November ballot is deceptively simple: “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?”

“This amendment is a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Dayton wrote in a  letter issuing a symbolic-only veto. “It goes far beyond its stated intention to require photo IDs. Instead, it dismantles Minnesota’s best-in-the nation election system. According to the Secretary of State, this amendment would end same-day voter registration, long a goal of many Republican partisans, and require an entirely new system of provisional balloting.”

The amendment, if passed, would be the most extreme photo ID measure in the nation. Other states with photo ID laws provide exemptions for military voters, absentee voters, seniors living in nursing homes, and others.

“It’s the most radical version of photo ID passed by any state. Whatever you think about voter ID, this particular version is going to radically transform our election system and is too risky,” commented Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU Local 26 and a board member of the Our Vote Our Future coalition, which opposes the amendment.

Local government officials have raised warnings about the costs of implementing the amendment, costs for issuing “free” identification cards and costs and logistics for managing a new system of provisional ballots for voters whose eligibility is questioned.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates that 140,000 voting age Minnesotans lack state ID, while 84,000 registered voters lack Minnesota ID, and an additional 131,000 current voters have the wrong address on their ID.

The state of Indiana spent $12 million in the first three years to respond to a new photo ID requirement for voting.

Instituting provisional ballots in Minnesota introduces a logistical and legal nightmare. According to a study by the Pew Center on the States, more than two million provisional ballots were submitted nationwide in the 2008 election in states which provide for provisional ballots. Nearly 600,000 ballots were rejected and never counted for reasons that varied state to state and even within states.

“That is not something we should be putting into our constitution,” warned Chris Shields, communications director for the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “It’s unnecessary and costly.” The AFL-CIO is participating in the Our Vote Our Future coalition to oppose the amendment.

“Our current election system is considered the best or one of the best in the country,” said Greta Bergstrom, communications director for TakeAction Minnesota, also part of the Our Vote Our Future coalition. Minnesota’s voting system, she noted, “withstood intense scrutiny through two intense statewide recounts with national attention.”

“The evidence shows that voter fraud is not a problem,” said SEIU’s Javier Morillo-Alicea.

“The challenge we have before us is that there is something that sounds common sense” in the language for the question that will appear on the ballot, Morillo-Alicea said. “We need to point out the absolutely extreme version of what is proposed.”

Passing the amendment would threaten Minnesota’s strong tradition of leading the nation in voter turn-out.

“The reason we have high voter participation is because we have same day registration,” Morillo-Alicea said. “For the voice of working people to be heard, we need that high participation.”

For more information on the amendment, visit www.OurVoteOurFuture.org.

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