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Final version of voter ID bill headed to House and Senate

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Caucus straw polls
Henry Stachyra Jr. waits for caucus participants at Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater, Minn. Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. A voter identification scanning systems was being tested at the Stillwater site.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that he will work against a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls, even though he has no power to stop it from reaching the ballot in November.

Conference committee negotiators finished work late Monday on a final version of the bill necessary to resolve differences between House and Senate versions. Their work came before expected final votes in the two chambers.

Proponents of constitutional amendments need only majority votes in both chambers of the Legislature to place the measures on the statewide ballot. The process bypasses the governor, who has no opportunity to sign or veto such measures.

Dayton, a Democrat, had already said he would use his bully pulpit to try to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages. He pledged to do the same to defeat the voter ID amendment.

"You know, at first blush it sounds good. I mean we all want every vote to be lawfully cast and everyone who's lawfully eligible to be able to vote. We all agree on that," Dayton said. "The question is how do you achieve that goal and not disenfranchise thousands of people? So, as Minnesotans become aware of the facts of the situation, I think public opinion will change."

But as amendment supporters frequently point out, public opinion is on their side, and by a wide margin. State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the chief sponsor of the House bill, said Minnesota voters want the ID requirement because they lack confidence in the current system. 

"Forefront in my mind all the time were those voters and their input into this, their strong desire to have photo ID," Kiffmeyer said. "They were foremost in my mind, and to write the language well to serve them well. Now it goes, it will be shortly, going to the people themselves to have a say on it." 

The conference committee removed language in the Senate bill aimed at accommodating future technologies.

It also added language that would require voters who submit absentee and mail-in ballots to verify their identities and eligibility in ways that are "substantially equivalent" to in-person voting. The next Legislature will have to decide how.

State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the amendment's chief sponsor in the Senate, said lawmakers will now vote on what he termed a "strict" photo ID bill that can withstand an expected court challenge. Newman insists that the ID requirement will not prevent any eligible Minnesotan from voting.

"There's absolutely nothing in this bill that is going to disenfranchise anyone," Hutchinson said. "In point of fact, I think it will make it easier for people to obtain the necessary information and identification to vote, and will increase voting participation in the state of Minnesota."

House and Senate Democrats remain firmly opposed to the GOP proposal.

State Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said he already believed the ID requirement would jeopardize same-day registration. He is now concerned that the new language added to the conference report could end mail-in balloting.

Simon also warns that the wording of the ballot question might not pass legal muster, because it is overly vague and makes no mention that government-issued IDs or provisional ballots are created through the amendment.

"The question as written right now is an engraved invitation for a lawsuit," Simon said. "If I had to bet my next paycheck on the result, I would bet that the Supreme Court will say it's a deficient question. And then question becomes, what's the remedy? The extreme remedy would be to say it can't go on the ballot at all."

If the measure gets on the statewide ballot, and if voters approve it, the next Legislature will still have to pass an enabling measure to spell out all the specifics of how the voter ID requirement would work.

Kiffmeyer said she already has draft legislation prepared and ready to introduce in the 2013 session. She said the bill is based on the one Dayton vetoed last year.