Senate passes voter ID requirement, critics vow litigation

Voter ID protest
Protesters outside the Senate gallery showed their opposition to the voter ID amendment at the State Capitol on Friday, March 23, 2012. Roughly 300 people held a silent protest until the session started; they then started chanting.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Minnesota voters are steps away from seeing a photo identification constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The full Senate passed the amendment Friday in a 36-30 vote after six hours of debate. The House passed the amendment Tuesday.

The vote fell mostly along party lines. Every Republican except Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona voted for the amendment. Every Democrat voted against it.

The measure centers around whether voters need to prove who they are when they cast a ballot. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he fears some people are voting illegally and that the proposed constitutional amendment would stop it.

"I think we do have voter fraud in the United States and I think we have voter fraud in Minnesota," said Newman. "It is my belief that when someone votes who should not be voting, it has the effect of neutralizing or canceling the vote of someone who has voted legally."

But opponents -- all of them Democrats -- said those fears are overblown and that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL- Columbia Heights, also argued that the measure wouldn't stop those who aim to vote illegally.

"Most of you have your photo ID and your driver's license right here. Does that stop you from speeding? Does that stop you from maybe once in a while swerving in your lane?" said Goodwin. "That's about the effect that this voter ID is going to have on catching any fraudulent votes."

Democrats say the impact of the voter ID requirement will disenfranchise thousands of people. They say those who live in nursing homes, homeless people, college students and people who register on Election Day may have trouble voting. Sen. Dick Cohen of St. Paul said he's worried that the amendment will put up barriers for people to vote.

"For the first time in the years I've been in the state Senate, we're seeing a regression, a regression, on a right held by somebody," Cohen said.

Democrats were unsuccessful in their efforts to carve out exemptions for veterans and nursing home residents. Sen. Julianne Ortman, R- Chanhassen, said decisions on how the amendment would be implemented should happen only after the constitution is amended.

"It seems to me that the appropriate time for the Legislature to act to make some kind of waiver or exemption for certain voters would be after we have heard from the voters themselves that they want to impose this voter identification requirement," she said.

Democrats however, said the state Constitution trumps state law and that the Legislature won't have the ability to make those exemptions.

Others complained that the measure would end the practice of voter vouching and change same-day registration. The proposal allows same-day registration but voters would cast a provisional ballot which wouldn't be counted until a voter shows the proper photo ID.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, said she's worried voters won't follow up.

"In Indiana after Voter ID was passed. 83 percent of the provisional ballots were never counted. That's appalling," she said.

One amendment was added to the bill, to include language that expands the photo ID requirement to include a "legal equivalent," which would prepare for future technology.

The measure is different from a House proposal passed earlier this week. The House could accept the Senate language or set up a conference committee to reconcile the differences.

If a deal is reached, both houses would have to pass the new language. Gov. Dayton has no ability to veto constitutional amendments, so the measure would go on the November ballot. The Constitution would be amended if a majority of voters cast their ballots in favor of it.