Minnesota voters will decide on Tuesday whether they want to use the state constitution to make significant changes in state election law.
For months, polls consistently showed most voters supported the proposed requirement for showing a photo identification in order to receive a ballot on Election Day. But opponents note that support has eroded as people learn more about its potential consequences.
The battle lines have been clearly drawn for months. Voter ID supporters, like Rollie Nissen of Willmar, see the amendment as a common sense way to protect the integrity of the election system.
"I went to Home Depot to return a dead plant, and just to exchange it for another one, I had to produce my ID. So why wouldn't you if you were going to vote?" Nissen said. "I just think it's important that we know who's voting and that they really are who they say they are."
But opponents believe the amendment is a solution in search of a problem. Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said it's more likely to disenfranchise voters than stop fraud.
"We heard Norm Coleman's attorney from the recount back in 2008 say that they looked for fraud; they didn't find it," she said. "I think the number of people who are going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to get their ballot counted is going to far, far outweigh the one or two votes that get counted in any given election that maybe shouldn't have been."
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Voter ID supporters are equally dismissive of the disenfranchisement claim. Doug Chapin, a neutral voter ID expert at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School, said those fundamental arguments have defined the entire campaign.
"We've really got what's equivalent to a faith-based argument between people on one side who believe fraud is rampant and people on the other side that believe disenfranchisement is inevitable," Chapin said. "Given that, it's not surprising that we get really more heat than light on this issue, not just in Minnesota but across the country."
If the amendment passes, Minnesota would become the 34th state to enact a voter identification requirement, but only the second to put it in the state constitution. The laws vary widely. Indiana's ID law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, is considered among the strictest. Minnesota's could be even stricter. But if voters approve it, most of the details, including the cost, won't be spelled out until the next legislative session.
One certain change is that the state would allow voters who show up without the proper identification to cast provisional ballots and then verify their identity later. But Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, said many provisional voters in other states never return, and their ballots are not counted.
"For many voters, you know, what's the point?" Foley said. "They read in the newspaper the next day that the elections are decided, and so on and so forth. They live busy lives and don't bother to rectify their ID."
Several states that have passed voter ID laws won't have them in place on Tuesday because of court challenges. Lawsuits appear certain in Minnesota, too, if the amendment passes and if anyone is unable to vote in the next election.
Many African American voters fear they could among the disenfranchised. During a recent event in Minneapolis, civil rights veteran Josie Johnson described working as a young girl in Texas against that state's poll tax. Johnson said she is troubled by the voter ID amendment.
"Here we are in 2012, after the 1965 Voter Rights Act, having to fight for it all over again," she said.
Voter ID supporters disagree. Dan McGrath, manager of the pro-amendment campaign organization Protect My Vote, said that he is confident that all eligible Minnesotans would still get to vote under the new requirements and that claims to the contrary are wrong.
"Veterans, for some reason,,won't be able to vote, elderly people, students ... Yeah, I've heard it all," McGrath said. "It's all nonsense. There excuses to maintain the status quo."
McGrath said he thinks the Legislature will create a solid implementation bill next year. But in addition to the voter ID amendment, all 201 legislative seats are up for grabs on Tuesday. That means the look of the implementation will depend on which party wins control.