With less than two weeks until Election Day, a flurry of charges and countercharges flew today in the debate over the voter ID constitutional amendment.
Supporters of the proposed requirement that Minnesotans show photo identification in order to vote accused opponents of using a television ad to spread "blatant lies."
The anti-amendment campaign organization Our Vote Our Future launched a new 30-second television ad this week that features Alex Erickson, an Iraq war veteran from Minneapolis.
In the ad, Erickson says, "The Voter Restriction Amendment might seem like a good idea, but when the Legislature put it on the ballot, they screwed it up. To them, military IDs aren't valid IDs, which means this amendment takes away a basic freedom from people who gave a whole lot. Let's send this back, and make them fix it."
But Erickson's contention that soldiers will face new barriers when they try to vote rubbed amendment supporters the wrong way. They filed a complaint over the ad with the Office of Administrative Hearings.
"It's a blatant lie. They know it. The entire campaign of our opposition is based upon misinforming, misleading voters," said Dan McGrath, chairman of the pro-amendment campaign organization Protect My Vote, during a State Capitol news conference.
“The amendment cannot have the effect that they're claiming that it will.”Dan McGrath, of Protect My Vote
McGrath said he believes the ad is a clear case of false political advertising. In addition to filing the complaint, he called on Twin Cities television stations to stop airing the ad and warned that they too could be violating the law. McGrath argues that the language of the proposed constitutional amendment, which says that all voters must show "valid government-issued photo identification," was crafted to accommodate all eligible voters as well as several forms of identification.
"Military ID is currently accepted in our election system for identification purposes for voters. Since the amendment doesn't invalidate that, there's no reason to believe that that would change," McGrath said. "It can't change. The amendment cannot have the effect that they're claiming that it will."
But amendment opponents stand by the ad and say that the amendment language McGrath claims is so clear is anything but. Rather, the amendment was poorly written and should be rejected by voters, said Eric Fought, communications director for Our Vote Our Future.
"Well, amendment proponents keep telling us to read the amendment, and we have. And when we read the amendment we realize that it does not provide safeguards for military personnel serving overseas," Fought said. "As a matter of fact, what we do know is that this same legislature that passed this amendment and put it on the ballot also passed a bill in 2011 that did not include military IDs."
Military IDs are not the only omission. Lawmakers made no specific exemptions for anyone in the amendment and opponents appear intent on exploiting that ambiguity. Later in the day, they held their own news conference to highlight the potential effect of voter ID requirements on victims of domestic violence.
Sasha Cotton of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women said she sees big problems ahead.
"We know that women experiencing domestic violence often move with great frequency, tying to remain safe and avoid being found by their abuser," Cotton said. "If the voter ID amendment is passed, it will be nearly impossible for them to be able to vote, because their IDs would not be current to the address that they're living at the time."
An earlier TV ad from amendment opponents highlighted potential voting problems for senior citizens. McGrath criticized that ad too, but it was not included in the complaint. Public opinion polls have shown most Minnesotans support a voter ID requirement, although the gap has been narrowing.