Proposed voter ID amendment passes Minnesota House

Voter ID amendment
A small group of people who oppose the voter ID amendment stand outside the House chamber in protest as representatives begin to debate the amendment Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at the State Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Republicans in the Minnesota House have passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would require all voters to show photo identification at the polls.

The party line vote of 72 to 62 came early this morning after a nine-hour debate. The Senate could soon pass the same bill, which would then place the issue on the statewide ballot in November.

Supporters of the amendment claim it will protect election integrity. They want every Minnesotan to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Republican Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake said the requirement will increase public confidence in the system.

"Every single vote in that ballot box deserves to be counted accurately and honestly in a fair and transparent manner. And members, when it comes to the voter registration system, the same level of integrity should be there as to who gets a ballot," she said.

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Kiffmeyer and other supporters insist the proposed requirement would still allow for same-day registration, absentee voting and mail-balloting. But the practice of vouching for other voters at the polling place would end.

Republican Rep. Joyce Peppin of Rogers noted several transactions that already require photo identification. Peppin said adding voting to that list is a "no brainer."

"Frankly most people are shocked when they go to the polls and they pull out their drivers license or ID, and the election judge says 'oh you don't need that. That's not required.' And I've spoken to a lot people, I'm sure many of you have. They think it's outrageous. Bipartisanly they think it's outrageous," she said.

Voter ID amendment
State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, speaks on behalf of a voter ID amendment during a House session Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at the State Capitol in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

A majority of Minnesota voters will have to approve the new constitutional language in November. If that happens, the next Legislature will still have to figure out the details of the new voting system, which would include provisional ballots the first time it's used. They'll also have to determine the cost of issuing a free ID to every eligible voter who needs one.

Democrats argued the requirement could keep thousands of eligible voters, including senior citizens, college students and military personnel from exercising their rights. But Rep. Representative Keith Downey of Edina said the new provisional ballots will prevent the possibility of disenfranchisement.

"So even if you forget your ID, or you have a challenge getting your ID, you can still vote."

Republicans decided to change election policy through the state constitution shortly after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a GOP-backed voter ID bill last session. The governor has no say in whether constitutional amendments get on the ballot. It only needs majority votes in the house and Senate. DFL Rep. Steve Simon of St. Louis Park scolded Republicans for putting their policy preferences into the state constitution.

Voter ID amendment
State representatives, including Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, standing, debate the voter ID amendment during a House session Tuesday, March 20, 2012 in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"Amending the constitution should only be done when absolutely necessary to accomplish a goal. Not because you can. Not because it feels good. Not because you have the votes. No because you feel passionately about an issue. That's not good enough, and that's not the standard that we've had in Minnesota," Simon said.

House Democrats contend that the amendment language is vague and confusing. They cite a sentence that says all voters would be subject to quote "substantially equivalent eligibility verification." DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley says he doesn't know what that phrase means, and he predicts next year's enabling legislation will end up in court.

"Any legislation that is written, if it's too strict, it will be challenged in court. If it's too lenient, it will be challenged in court. Everything we do will be judged against the words in this constitutional amendment, but we don't know what those words mean, and they won't tell us. So, the only thing we know for certain is that whatever we try to do will result in a lawsuit," Winkler said.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate are also moving closer to passage of the voter ID constitutional amendment. The Senate rules committee is scheduled to take up the measure today, which could clear the way for a floor vote within a week.