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Groups sue over Minn. voter ID amendment

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Voter ID amendment
A small group of people who oppose the voter ID amendment stand outside the House chamber in protest in a March 2012 file photo taken at the State Capitol. Opponents of the measure filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, May 30, 2012.
MPR File Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Opponents of Minnesota's proposed voter identification requirement have filed a lawsuit to try to keep the constitutional amendment question off of the statewide ballot in November.

Representatives of four organizations announced the legal challenge Wednesday, claiming that the wording of the ballot question lawmakers passed several weeks ago is vague and misleading.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the League of Women Voters Minnesota, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota are petitioning the state Supreme Court to strike down the voter ID ballot question, because they claim it would create one of the most restrictive election laws in the country.  

   Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU Minnesota, said during a news conference at a downtown Minneapolis law office that the proposed constitutional amendment would do far more than what the question describes. Samuelson said there's no mention of a new provisional ballot system or the potential end of same-day registration.

"We believe that the voters of Minnesota have a right to know what they're voting on," Samuelson said. "This petition is about ensuring that all Minnesota voters know the full extent of what this amendment could do and the impact it could have on hundreds of thousands of Minnesota voters."

In addition to the four organizations, the lawsuit names five individual plaintiffs who are concerned about the proposed amendment and its impact on their ability to vote. They include a disabled senior citizen, a soldier on active duty, a Native American and two college students.

But lawyer Bill Pentelovitch stressed that the petition is more about the wording of the ballot question than it is about the impact of the requirement. Pentelovitch contends the question is misleading about who needs to show an ID in order to vote and who gets a free ID.

Bill Pentelovitch
Bill Pentelovitch, of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, is the lead attorney representing the effort to have the voter ID measure removed from the ballot this fall.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"The ballot question falsely states that the state of Minnesota would provide free identification to eligible voters, when in fact what the amendment says is that free identification would only be provided to people who do not already have a government-issued ID," Pentelovitch said.

Pentelovitch also believes that the proposed voter ID requirement would essentially end Minnesota's tradition of same-day registration. He said that's because election officials will face too many complications at polling places trying to verify the identification of voters. But voter ID supporters firmly disagree.

"That is not true. That is absolutely not true," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, a chief sponsor of the voter ID constitutional amendment bill. 

Newman said the practice of vouching for the identity of other voters will end. But he insists eligible Minnesotans will still be able to show up at their polling place on Election Day and register to vote, even without an identification.

"If they show up on Election Day without the requisite identification, they will be allowed register," he said. "They will be allowed to vote. But their vote will be provisional, and it will not count unless and until they come back with the necessary identification."

The lawsuit comes as no surprise to voter ID supporters. Newman said previous rulings from the Minnesota Supreme Court were used to help craft the ballot question. Republican Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, the chief House sponsor of the bill, said she's confident the amendment is on solid legal ground.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld photo ID. It's not like this is a novel concept that has never been done before," she said. "It has. We have a pretty good track record for that, as well as a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and we kept a close eye on the important tenets of that U.S. Supreme Court ruling and applied that here in Minnesota, as well as case law for the courts here in Minnesota."

The court petition names the state of Minnesota, as well as Secretary of State Mark Ritchie as respondents. Ritchie has been an outspoken critic of voter ID and the proposed constitutional amendment, but he may now find himself in the position of defending a law he opposes.