Voter photo ID legislation introduced as constitutional amendment

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a Republican-backed bill last spring to require Minnesotans to show photo identification to vote. Voter ID supporters have now introduced legislation that would bypass Dayton and allow voters to make the change through a constitutional amendment.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a Republican-backed bill last spring that would have required Minnesotans to show photo identification to vote. In his veto letter, Dayton noted that the measure would have forced local governments to spend money and that it did not have broad bipartisan support.

But voter ID supporters insist the measure is needed to prevent election fraud. That's why they've introduced legislation that would bypass Dayton and allow voters to make the change through a constitutional amendment. Governors cannot veto constitutional amendments.

If a majority of the Legislature approves one, it will show up on the ballot in November. State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said Dayton's veto last year was a big factor in his sponsoring the amendment bill.

"This is a way to in effect challenge his veto," Newton said. "We'll let the people decide whether or not they want voter ID legislation in the state of Minnesota."

Legislators have already introduced more than a dozen constitutional amendment bills, including one that would make it harder to raise taxes.

Newman says he thinks most Minnesotans favor a voter ID law. He said it would protect the integrity of elections.

"If there is voter fraud, if there are folks who are voting that shouldn't be voting," he said. "That disenfranchises all of us."

But critics say the requirement would have many negative consequences. State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said he fears voting would be more difficult for senior citizens, college students and other Minnesotans who might not have a photo ID with their current address.

"It creates a burden for voting on people, makes it more difficult, and is just an unnecessary expense and unnecessary hassle for voters," he said.

Winkler said he's concerned that Republicans will set a bad precedent by using the constitution to enact a partisan agenda.

If the tax measure is approved, it would require a three-fifths super majority in the House and Senate to impose a new tax or increase existing taxes.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said 18 other states have similar limits. He said his bill would help state government practice greater fiscal restraint.

"These are the types of guidelines that our constitution [is] designed for," he said. "We have a two-thirds super majority requirement to borrow and bond money in Minnesota. So the precedent is already there in our constitution. This would follow that very closely."

Drazkowksi is also pushing a constitutional amendment to make membership in labor unions voluntary. He said workers should have an option of paying union dues or keeping that money in their own pocket.

"I know some workers believe that the unions are not representing them in ways that meet their self interests," he said. "In other cases union members do believe that. So, what this does is allows people to act with their feet and to move in the direction that they want to."

Labor organizations are gearing up to fight the bill. Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, says the proposed amendment would result in fewer jobs and lower wages for the middle class.

"These kind of laws and amendments are being pushed by corporate funded groups all across the country," Knutson said. "I believe it's really an ongoing attack on working people."

Other proposed constitutional amendments would put limits on the level of state spending and set term limits for legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor. There's also a proposal to make it harder to get constitutional amendments on the ballot by requiring super majority votes for passage in both the House and Senate.