The real fraud is the claim that voter IDs will prevent fraud

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Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is serving his eighth term in the Minnesota Legislature.

Supporters of Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendment to restrict voting ask people to ratify it based on an appeal to their narrow self-interest. Despite the lack of fraud from voter impersonation, they imply that a voter is "protecting" his or her own vote by requiring a photo ID at the polls. But blocking tens of thousands of other Minnesotans from voting because one or two of them might have done so fraudulently is not protecting one's own vote.

Amendment proponents appeal to fear and self-interest, but I want to appeal to Minnesotans' sense of fairness. It is wrong to place roadblocks to voting in the way of the senior in assisted living, the soldier serving in Afghanistan, the disabled woman who is homebound or the veteran who is homeless. They have a right to vote too.

In our democracy, the right to vote is fundamental. Taking away the vote from our neighbors under the pretext of preventing fraud is a radical step backward for that democracy. The Constitution is supposed to guarantee human rights, not take them away.

This anti-democracy initiative is present in many states, but the proposed amendment in Minnesota is perhaps the worst assault on voters.

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The recent Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on the amendment shows that if it is ratified, people needing to vote absentee by mail might lose their right to vote. The court's opinion explicitly said that under the amendment, absentee voters who couldn't hand the election judge the government-issued photo identification would be required to provide "something that is virtually identical to such identification." There is no way that an election judge can make a "virtually identical" verification, comparing a voter's face to a photo ID, when the election judge is in St. Paul and the absentee voter is in Afghanistan or anywhere else.

It is not only out-of-town voters who stand to be disenfranchised by the amendment. The amendment authors tell voters not to worry about the details because they will be worked out later, by the Legislature. But we don't need to wait to see the intent. The amendment's authors already showed us their intent in legislation they passed last year, blocked only by the governor's veto. In it, they would give almost no alternative to producing a driver's license (or the state non-driver ID, or a new ID created just for voting) showing the voter's current address.

No military IDs would be allowed. No student IDs either. While many voters assume that "everyone" has a driver's license with current address, that simply isn't reality. And if your wallet is stolen, or you misplace your license in the weeks before an election, you won't be able to vote.

Students living away from home in a dorm, if they were no longer able to vote absentee, would need to pay for a driver's license for their new address even if they are living there for only nine months. Virtually no homeless Minnesotan, including the many Vietnam-era veterans who are living on the streets, would be able to vote. They risked their lives for our country, but they are not good enough to vote?

What about the senior in assisted living or a nursing home who no longer drives and doesn't need a driver's license? Should we just assume that every frail or elderly person has a friend or family member willing to drive that senior citizen to the license bureau to get an ID?

This amendment won't prevent fraud, but it will prevent many seniors in nursing homes from voting.

The only type of fraud that a photo ID requirement might prevent is fraud by impersonation. A national investigative report found only 10 cases of voter impersonation in the entire United States during the past decade. That's about one preventable voter fraud case in Minnesota every 50 years.

For that, we would take away the right to vote for tens of thousands of seniors, students, people with disabilities, people whose licenses were recently lost or stolen, and people who are more pressed with feeding their children than paying for a duplicate birth certificate and other documentation so that they can qualify for a "free" photo ID card for voting.

Minnesota has an election system that has relied, successfully, on voters signing an oath that they are eligible to vote, with violators facing a five-year felony penalty. We have consistently had the nation's best voting system, and the highest voter turnout. This constitutional amendment would destroy that record.

The real fraud is the claim that this amendment is about fraud prevention. It is a blatant attempt to take away voting rights from countless Minnesotans. A century after women were given the right to vote and 50 years after African-Americans were given the right to vote, this amendment would move Minnesota backward.

Our democracy depends, not only on your individual right to vote, but also on the individual right of all of your neighbors to vote. It's time for Minnesotans to speak out on behalf of our neighbors and defeat this mean-spirited amendment.