A proposed constitutional amendment to require Minnesotans to show photo identification in order to vote is facing a rough road at the State Capitol.
Amendment opponents packed a Senate hearing on the measure Wednesday and dozens took turns to criticize the bill, providing most of the five hours of testimony.
Republicans on the Committee on Local Government and Elections appear supportive of the bill, and they have the votes to advance it. The panel recessed without taking action or saying when the debate would resume.
Ilo Madden, a retired minister from St. Louis Park, said she doesn't want her right to vote jeopardized. Madden told lawmakers that obtaining an ID is already difficult for many senior citizens.
"Today, I live on my own in an apartment. But tomorrow I could be living in a nursing home. We never know," Madden said. "If I was in a nursing home, I'd have to go through the whole process of getting an ID once again. I didn't think I could do it physically."
University of Minnesota student Sydney Jordan doesn't have an ID reflecting her current address. She believes the requirement will deter many college students from voting.
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"We should not live in a state where it is easier for a young adult to purchase cigarettes and alcohol than it is to vote," Jordan said.
It was nearly four hours into the hearing before a few supporters testified in favor of the bill. Dan McGrath, executive director of the election watchdog group Minnesota Majority, said fraudulent voting is a real issue that needs attention. McGrath also took issue with opponents' claims that an ID requirement would disenfranchise voters.
"It's astonishing to me. I mean it's almost like the testifiers think there are armies of ninjas that they have to hand-to-hand combat their way through to the DPS station to get their free identification card," McGrath said. "Some of the arguments I found ridiculous."
Republicans in the House and Senate passed voter identification legislation last year, but DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the measure. Supporters are now trying to add the requirement to the state constitution, through a process that would bypass Dayton.
Constitutional amendments need only to win simple majorities in both chambers to get on the statewide ballot. The governor has no say.
"Over the years the constitution has been amended for any number of reasons, on multiple occasions."
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, defended his use of the constitution as an appropriate tool for adjusting to changing times. Newman also defended the goal of his bill, which he claims would prevent election fraud.
"I think it's a good idea to do whatever we can to protect the integrity of our voter system. One of the ways that we now have in the 21st century is to provide for identification of a voter," Newman said. "In other words, we now have the ability to prove who they say they are, and they live where they say they live."
If voters approve the constitutional amendment in November, lawmakers would still have to decide how to implement the new requirement during the 2013 session. One of those details is making free identification available to all eligible voters. It is unclear how much those IDs would cost the state or how they would be distributed. The practice of vouching for other voters would be eliminated.
A representative of the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office estimated the new requirement would cause problems for 215,000 current voters — primarily the elderly, disabled, students and military personnel.
Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, said he too was concerned about the potential for disenfranchisement.
"Changes in state constitutions has been a tactic that has been used to disenfranchise certain voters. And in the voting rights act, they very specifically talk about acts by states and municipalities that would have a disparate impact or discriminatory impact," Harrington said. Before we pass a constitutional amendment that would put us in that category, I think we ought to think through all of the ramifications of our action first."