The Minnesota Senate is set to vote on a measure that would ask voters to change the state constitution to require people to show photo identification to vote.
The Senate Rules Committee approved the measure Wednesday afternoon, just hours after the Minnesota House passed the bill. Republicans say it will improve the state's election system but Democrats worry that it could disenfranchise thousands of people.
The Senate Rules Committee hearing was less contentious than a nine-hour debate that took place Tuesday in the House. But those making the arguments were just as divided over the issue.
Republican supporters like state Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina say people should have to prove who they are before they can vote. Michel argued during the Rules Committee meeting that requiring photo identification would improve the state's election system.
"If we are going to have close elections then we are going to feel confident about those results," he said.
Democrats who oppose the measure, among them state Sen. Dick Cohen of St. Paul, say authorities have recorded few if any cases of voter fraud cited as a rationale for the voter ID requirement. Cohen argued that the people who don't have the proper paperwork will greatly outnumber the instances of voter fraud.
"We're passing a constitutional amendment that's going to disenfranchise thousands and thousands of people so somebody can feel confident? Unbelievable," he said.
Cohen asked the author of the proposed amendment, state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, how many instances of voter fraud occurred in the past few election cycles. Newman said he wasn't prepared for that question and would get back to Cohen.
State Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said that fears about the photo ID requirement are overblown. She said people are required to show identification all the time and said "it's a bogus argument" to demand that supporters come up with a litany of instances of fraud to justify modernizing the election system.
"This is very important right which is very fundamental to the operation of government and self-government, and I don't think it's a lot to ask people to authorize themselves to walk into a voting booth and vote," Ortman said. "Otherwise, Senator Cohen, we might still be voting with chisels and stone."
The Rules Committee did change the timeline for when the proposal would go into effect from June 30, 2013 to Dec. 1, 2013. Other committee members wanted more specifics about what forms of identification would be approved.
The proposed ballot question requires "government issued" photo IDs, but state Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, wondered why government "approved" IDs wouldn't suffice.
"It should say 'government approved' because it seems to me when it comes to college campuses and university campuses and so on, they could issue a photo ID that would definitely prove where the student lived," Langseth said.
Newman said he believes there's a greater degree of integrity with a government issued ID. The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the Senate will vote on it Friday.
Because there are some differences with the bill that the House passed, Senjem said he expects a conference committee will have to come up with a final version. Gov. Mark Dayton cannot veto a constitutional amendment, so if both the House and Senate pass it, it will be on the ballot in November.