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PoliGraph: Ellison’s claim highlights uncertainty about voter ID

A proposed constitutional amendment that would require all Minnesotans to show photo identification at the polls has passed the House and is up for debate in the Senate.

Proponents of the bill say the voter ID constitutional amendment is needed to prevent voter fraud. DFL Congressman Keith Ellison says the effort would disenfranchise some Minnesota voters. He voiced his concerns in a March 14, 2012, Star Tribune opinion piece.

"What would photo ID really mean for Minnesotans? Let me put it into perspective," Ellison wrote.

"The number of people affected by the amendment would fill Target Field over 17 times. That includes 215,000 registered voters who don't have a Minnesota driver's license or ID card with a current address on it as well as 500,000 Minnesotans who use same-day voter registration, which would end as we know it."

Ellison's numbers are correct, but it remains to be seen precisely how the proposed amendment would affect same-day voter registration.

The Evidence

The bill approved by the House this week is sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.

The legislation would amend the state's constitution to require voters to show valid government-issued identification before casting their ballot. Those who don't have identification can fill out a provisional ballot, which would be counted later if the voter's identity is verified.

Opponents of the bill say that requiring voter identification would have a disproportionate effect on students and seniors because many don't have driver's licenses.

According to data from the DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office, Ellison's numbers are correct. And with about 40,000 seats, Ellison's right that all those voters could fill Target Field 17 times over.

But the amendment language doesn't make changes to same-day registration, nor does it stipulate that a valid ID must include a current address.

In fact, the language is written so broadly that it's unclear exactly how voter identification would play out on Election Day, said Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky.

"Because the language being used is undefined at the current time, no one is exactly sure how this will affect operations of elections should the amendment be adopted by the public," Mansky said.

If voters adopt the amendment, the next Legislature would have to work out the mechanics of the new requirement in 2013.

Beth Fraser, government affairs director for the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, believes that the Legislature would have little choice but to eliminate same-day voter registration because the amendment requires all voters to "be subject to substantially equivalent eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted."

Even if a voter registers on Election Day, there's no way the Secretary of State could verify that person's identity fast enough to allow that person to vote the same day, Fraser said. They'd have to fill out a provisional ballot instead.

But Kiffmeyer said that's not the intent of her amendment and she doesn't expect changes to same-day voter registration. She also doesn't believe the Legislature would ultimately require photo IDs to display current addresses, either.

"I can't imagine that we as Democrats and Republicans coming back to the Legislature and to be so foolish as to put a requirement in that you have to have the address where you live at on your ID," she said.

The Verdict

Ellison got his numbers right.

His underlying point that the proposal would disenfranchise those who don't have identification with a current address or those who opt for same-day registration is a concern shared by other lawmakers and groups who oppose voter ID.

But at this point, the details of how voter ID would play out on Election Day won't be known until the Legislature decides the details.

For now, Ellison's claim earns an inconclusive rating because there are too many unanswered questions about how voter ID would work.


Ellison Op-Ed: One Vote Denied Is One Too Many, March 14, 2012

Minnesota House of Representatives, HF 2738, accessed March 20, 2012

Minnesota Senate, SF 1577, accessed March 20, 2012

MPR News Primer: Voter ID, by Paul Tosto, March 19, 2012

Minnesota Secretary of State, 2011 -2012 Minnesota Legislative Manual (Blue Book), Chapter 10 - Minnesota Votes, accessed March 20, 2012

The Uptake, Voter Photo ID Constitutional Amendment Heard In MN Senate Committee, February 1, 2012

Interview, Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections expert, March 20, 2012

Interview, Beth Fraser, Government Affairs Director, Minnesota Secretary of State, March 20, 2012

Interview, Rachel Smith, Hennepin County Elections Manager, March 20, 2012