PoliGraph: Voter ID specifics difficult to pin down

On Election Day Minnesotans will decide whether future voters should be required to show photo identification before they cast ballots.

Groups opposing a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment frequently say that 700,000 Minnesotans could lose their right to vote if the amendment is approved. The Minnesota DFL Party cited the number in a recent fundraising email.

"There are over 700,000 Minnesotans who could lose their right to vote if Republicans get their way," the email stated. "That's what's at stake if a Voter ID amendment passes - and that's why we're so fired up."

Estimating how many people could be prohibited from voting is fraught with uncertainty.

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The Evidence

The amendment would require people to show valid government issued photo identification to vote, and the government would be required to provide free identification to people who don't have one.

People who show up to the polls without the right ID will be given a provisional ballot, which can't be counted unless the voter "certifies" the ballot. And the Secretary of State would still be required to verify their identity.

Those new rules mean about 700,000 could lose their right to vote, the DFL said. Here's how they're coming up with that number:

The Secretary of State's office estimates that about 215,000 people lack current or valid photo identification.

On top of that, the DFL is adding about 500,000 people who are estimated to register and vote on the same day. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who opposes the amendment, believes it would be very difficult to subject same-day registrants to "substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification" as the amendment requires - and that means the end of Election Day voter registration.

That doesn't mean that people who would normally register the same day they vote would lose their rights entirely. People who show up to the polls without proper identification would cast a provisional ballot, but they would have to certify their identity to have it counted. Voters have little incentive to do that once the election is over, election experts say.

So, the DFL's numbers aren't over the top.

That said, estimating how many people could be prohibited from voting on Election Day is difficult to do for several reasons, said Matt Gehring who works for the non-partisan Minnesota House Research office.

That's because the amendment doesn't detail how the new system would work. Writing the fine print - for instance, deciding how a voter would "certify" his or her provisional ballot - will be up to the Legislature. And if state lawmakers can't agree, the courts will decide.

With every member of the state Legislature up for re-election this year, it's unclear who will be in control of the state House and Senate. The new rules could be very strict or very lenient depending on who's in charge.

Take the Secretary of State's argument about same-day voter registration. The amendment doesn't mention a thing about changing the law. The Legislature could decide, for instance, to install computers linked to the state's databases at the polls so election officials could verify a voter's eligibility on the spot, Gehring said.

Voter ID proponents also point out that the amendment language doesn't say that voters need identification with their current address, and Gehring agrees this is another complicated grey area.

Minnesota's law defines a valid driver's license as "a license that is not expired, suspended, revoked or cancelled," Gehring said. "And those four terms I just read aren't really defined in an easy way anywhere."

Complicating matters is a separate Minnesota statute that says people must get a new license within 30 days of moving, Gehring said.

"It really depends on how [the Legislature] wants to set up the system if the amendment is adopted," Gehring said. "We really just don't know."

The Verdict

The DFL isn't out of bounds for saying that the amendment could make voting difficult for 700,000 Minnesotans.

But because there is so much uncertainty about how the new rules would actually work, the DFL's claim remains inconclusive.


Minnesota DFL fundraising email, Sept. 20, 2012

The Secretary of State, 2011-2012 Minnesota Legislative Manual: Chapter 10 - Minnesota Votes, accessed Oct. 2, 2012

The Secretary of State, Estimated Registered Voters Lacking Valid of Current ID, accessed Oct. 2, 2012

ProtectMyVote.com, Myths versus facts, accessed Oct. 2, 2012

MPR News, Other states offer clues on how voter ID would work in Minnesota, by Catharine Richert, April 4, 2012

MPR News, Would voter ID amendment really prevent voter fraud, by Tim Pugmire, Sept. 18, 2012

MPR News, Other states offer only limited guidance for Minnesota on voter ID, by Tim Pugmire, Sept. 27, 2012

Email exchange, Kate Monson, DFL spokeswoman, Oct. 2, 2012

Interview, Matt Gehring, Minnesota House Research, Oct. 2, 2012