Minn. Supreme Court denies challenge to photo ID

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

The Minnesota Supreme Court has denied an effort by voter ID opponents to remove from the November ballot a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show identification at the polls.

In a divided opinion released Monday, four of six justices rejected the claim that the question wording was misleading. Justices Paul Anderson and Alan Page dissented on both rulings.

In a separate ruling, the court reversed Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's decision to reword of the titles of both the voter ID and marriage amendments.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, League of Women Voters Minnesota, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota petitioned the court in May to strike down the voter ID ballot question. They claimed the wording lawmakers passed just a few weeks earlier was too vague and misleading because it didn't mention some of the big changes the requirement would require of the state's election system.

In a lengthy opinion, the state's high court said that the question is "not so unreasonable and misleading" that it shouldn't be put to a popular vote. The justices also said the petitioners had not demonstrated there was an error that needed a judiciary fix.

That disappointed Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU Minnesota.

"We believe that the question that the voters are going to see is false and misleading, and that was conceded by their attorney," Samuelson said. "But the court said it wasn't false and misleading enough I guess."

But the ruling came as welcome news for voter ID supporters, especially the Republican legislators who passed the measure last session. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said he thought the court got it right.

"I think it's unfortunate that in fact the whole matter did go to the Supreme Court, and that we had to expend funds on it," said Senjem, R-Rochester. "But that being the case, we're very, very happy with the outcome."

State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the chief House sponsor of the amendment measure, called the ruling a "victory for the constitution."

"In the constitution there is a separation of powers, and it's a real victory in the sense that the people get to have this constitutional amendment on their own ballot and make their own decision," Kiffmeyer said.

Supporters of the voter ID amendment, along with supporters of the constitutional amendment that would permit marriage only between a man and a woman, initiated the other court intervention. They filed challenges earlier this summer when Ritchie, a Democrat, announced ballot question titles that differed from those crafted by Republicans in the Legislature.

The original voter ID title was "Photo Identification Required for Voting." Ritchie's changed it to read "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots." GOP lawmakers gave the marriage amendment the title "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman." Ritchie's used the title "Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples."

Both lawsuits over the titles, which the court consolidated into one, accused Ritchie of exceeding his authority. The justices agreed and said the state should use the Legislature's original titles.

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was pleased with the decision.

"If the secretary of state wants to get involved in this type of thing, now that the Legislature has appropriately titled the the measures, he'll have to stand down in the future," Limmer said. "Because that's not his authority."

Ritchie issued a brief written statement, thanking the court for its prompt action. But he made no specific comments about the ruling. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, an opponent of both amendments, said he was disappointed. But he predicted Minnesotans would still defeat both measures.

The court issued its two rulings within three hours of the deadline recommended by the secretary of state. Ritchie told the justices two months ago that a decision would be needed by the end of business on Aug. 27, at the latest, to ensure enough time to prepare the general election ballots for absentee and in-person voting.