The Democratic mayors of Minnesota's two largest cities are speaking out against a proposed voter identification constitutional amendment.
During a state Capitol news conference today, mayors Chris Coleman of St. Paul and R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis warned that the proposed change in state election law will be expensive for their cities. They also claim it will restrict the rights of many eligible voters.
The mayor of St. Paul offered numerous adjectives describing the effort to require all eligible Minnesotans to show photo identification in order to vote. Within just a couple of minutes, Mayor Chris Coleman said the amendment is terrible, unnecessary, restrictive, cynical and wrongheaded. Coleman is also concerned about the cost to his city, which he estimated at $870,000 just for first-year implementation.
"It is just another example of an unfunded mandate by the state of Minnesota to push problems of the state, or perceived problems of the state, or political battles on the part of some of the legislative delegation," Coleman said, "to push these costs back onto the cities of the state of Minnesota, at a time when cities are really struggling to make basic budgets."
Rybak similarly criticized the amendment, which he contends would cause a mess for local governments.
But unlike Coleman, neither Rybak nor Minneapolis elections director Grace Wachlarowicz would estimate the cost to their city. However, Rybak said he is troubled by the potential effect.
"It scared me, and it should scare every single voter in this state," Rybak said. "Because it's going to lead to property tax increases in Minneapolis, in St. Paul and cities across this state, as well as make it harder to vote."
Ramsey County Election Manager Joe Mansky supported the mayors' warnings. Mansky said the added cost to local government will come from new activities at every polling place, such as provisional balloting and ID verification. He said it will require additional people and equipment.
But a key voter ID supporter said those assertions are pure speculation. Dan McGrath, chairman of the pro-amendment ballot committee "Protect My Vote," said the mayors and other amendment opponents are making claims they cannot back up.
"They're making up numbers out of thin air with no basis. The constitutional amendment does not specify any particular new processes or expenditures that the counties or the municipal governments have to bear the burden of," McGrath said. "The expectation is that the state is going to provide identification at no charge, not county governments. That's the only expense mentioned in the amendment."
So far, seven city governments, including Minneapolis and St. Paul have passed resolutions opposing the voter ID amendment.
The amendment fight could quickly heat up once a significant legal hurdle is resolved. The Minnesota Supreme Court is expected to rule any day on a lawsuit aimed at striking the voter ID constitutional amendment from the statewide ballot in November.