The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Thursday requiring all state residents to present photo identification in order to vote.
The Republican-backed measure passed on a party line vote of 37-26. Republicans say the ID requirement will boost confidence in the state election system. But Democrats, including Gov. Mark Dayton, have described the bill as a solution in search of a problem.
A version of the bill is still awaiting action from the full House of Representatives.
After losing two statewide recounts, Republicans have been pushing hard for changes in election laws, and they put the photo ID requirement at the top of that agenda. Republican Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove said his bill would modernize the state voting system and bring back integrity.
"I never said that there was, or justified this bill as a result of problems in the state, aside from the fact that we need to modernize, and the people of Minnesota deserve a system that is safe, secure and has the integrity expectation that every voter would want in the state of Minnesota," Limmer said.
Limmer's bill is modeled after an Indiana law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It provides free picture IDs to any voter without one. But those voters must show a birth certificate or other documentation before they get their new ID. The measure also allows voters to cast provisional ballots until their eligibility is resolved. Minnesota's current practice of a registered voter vouching for someone else's eligibility would be eliminated. The cost of the bill is $5 million.
Republican Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville said photo ID is a common sense requirement for voting.
"People simply have to walk in to cast their vote and prove that they are who they say they are," said Thompson said. "It seems to me that that is absolutely at the root of electoral integrity, is to make sure that if you vote and you hold yourself out to be Dave Thompson that you are."
But Democrats questioned the need for the requirement. They argued there are no widespread problems with voter fraud in Minnesota, and that the additional rules would prevent many elderly and poor people from voting. DFL Sen. John Harrington of St. Paul, the only African-American in the state Senate, said he thinks many people of color would be disenfranchised.
"To say that that's not a poll tax I think is disingenuous," Harrington said. "My read of what a poll tax was historically was that it's a precondition for the right to vote. Whether it's de facto or implicit, it's still a precondition. And that's what this photo ID does is it creates a precondition to the right to vote."
Dayton has also raised concerns about the need for a voter ID bill, but he regularly stops short of threatening a veto. The DFL governor repeated his position during a news conference earlier this week.
"I totally appreciate and totally support the desire that only people in Minnesota who are legally eligible to vote should do so, and that every vote legally cast should be accurately counted," Dayton said. "I'm totally, totally in agreement with that. The question is what is the problem that needs to be corrected, and what is the way to do that? And I don't see how photo ID does that at all."
A veto would slow, but not end the photo ID effort. Republican supporters have already introduced legislation to put the issue on the statewide ballot in 2012 as a proposed constitutional amendment. That process bypasses the governor and gives voters the power to approve the requirement.