Senate: Should students need photo IDs to vote?

I sat in on the Senate committee on local government and elections, which is hearing two bills (SF509 and SF479) proposing a photo ID requirement for voters as a way to prevent voter fraud.

It's an idea that students have already complained about in discussions over two House bills calling for it: HF302 and HF0089. They say the requirement is unnecessary, and the obstacle it places in front of students is likely to keep many of them from voting.

Matt Smriga, director of campus organizing for the Minnesota State University Student Association, told the Senate committee:

"The No. 1 barrier ... is a lack of understanding about the process of voting. Young people who have never voted before seem to find the process intimidating at times. ... And from what I've seen, if a student doesn't have a clear idea in her mind about how to "cross all (her) T's and dot all (her) I's, if you will, when it comes to voting, her motivation to show up to the polls can easily be undermined. ...

If we add a whole new layer of rules, regulations and process with the special photo ID requirement, I know for a fact, based on what I've seen, that it will lead to countless young citizens who have the legal right to vote not showing up on the polls on Election Day."

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Jessica Peterson White, the lead election judge in Northfield during last two elections, asked the committee to allow voters to vouch for those who don't have the proper identification:

"Students in Northfield also register to vote by having someone vouch for them. Some live in off-campus housing in groups, and do not have utility bills in every housemate’s name. They receive other mail at their campus mailboxes. Because they are often from other states, the state does not require them to get Minnesota driver’s licenses when they are not permanent full-time residents. So they too would have been turned away from our polling place had they not been able to register through vouching. I do not believe that there are any instances of improper vouching for students in Northfield’s pooling places, where we have a large student population."

But former state Rep. Dan Severson, Republican candidate for Minnesota Secretary of State and a retired Navy commander, said instituting a photo-ID requirement would make it easier for military personnel to vote, because they all have photo identification cards.

The current system, he said, makes it difficult for them to vote because they can't just use their photo identification. In the 2010 election, he said, only 6 percent eligible to vote were able to do so by absentee ballot in Minnesota. Their needs should trump those of students, he said:

Why should our college students receive better treatment than we are giving to our military, who are risking their lives for our freedoms?

Note: MPR has previously asked readers to chime in on whether Minnesota needs a photo ID requirement. You can read what they've said here.