Opponents of voter ID cite problems for the elderly

Voter ID
Christeen Stone opposes the proposed voter ID amendment and will be voting "no" this November. The 91-year-old Maplewood, Minn., resident recently renewed her driver's license.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- For nearly 70 years, Christeen Stone has voted in every election without having to present a document to prove she is a qualified voter.

Stone has voted in the same precinct since 1944, when she moved into her home in Maplewood, Minn. That's one reason she said she strongly objects to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Minnesota voters to present photo identification at the polls.

"It's just an insult to people who have voted all their lives," said Stone, 91. "They've been good citizens, and then to go in and be suspects in their own country, I don't like that."

Opponents of the constitutional amendment claim the proposed requirement would make it harder, even impossible, for thousands of people to cast a ballot. They say senior citizens are among those most likely to face hurdles, because many of them cannot readily produce the documents to prove their identity.

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Stone said she has a valid driver's license but not a copy of her birth certificate.

She tried to obtain one many years ago from officials in the rural Texas county where she was born and was told that they did not start recording birth certificates there until about 1930.

Stone, who is campaigning against the amendment for AARP, said she thinks many senior citizens would find it difficult to prove who they are.

"People my age, most of them are not in as good health as I am," Stone said. "They don't have the strength or the ability to go and try to get all kinds of paperwork done and so forth, and maybe don't even have anyone to take them. So that would be a real problem. It would be a real hassle."

The proposed constitutional amendment specifies that the state will provide free identification to eligible voters. But voter ID opponents still predict barriers and costs for the elderly.

Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said the state doesn't have to provide those voters with the documentation needed to obtain photo identification.

"For some people, those documents are not going to be free," she said. "And for some people it's going to take months for them to find the documents to get this so-called free ID."

According to the census, about 13 percent of Minnesota's population is age 65 or older -- 683,000 people. Nationwide, 18 percent of Americans 65 or older do not have a valid, government-issued photo ID, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Still, voter ID supporters don't see that as a problem.

"It's not a difficult thing to get identification," said Dan McGrath, chairman of the pro-amendment campaign organization Protect My Vote.

McGrath said the proposed requirement should not prevent someone from getting the identification needed to vote, adding that senior citizens can already get a state-issued ID without documentation, although it's a process that currently requires a fee.

"Senior citizens that do not have a birth certificate for one reason or another, or [who] would have an extraordinary difficulty obtaining a birth certificate, can still get identification using that one-page form that's in current law," he said.

Other provisions for the elderly could be included in the enabling legislation for voter ID. Peter Nelson, director of public policy at the Center of the American Experiment, a Minneapolis-based conservative think tank, is optimistic that the elderly can be easily accommodated in that yet-to-be-written bill.

"There's no reason we couldn't implement an amendment that has a very simple new photo ID just for voters, that doesn't require a birth certificate, doesn't require a marriage certificate to qualify for the photo ID," said Nelson, a voter ID supporter. "Also, there's no reason that you need a current address on your photo ID. So there's no reason that it can't be less strict than some states."

Nelson said he believes lawmakers will come up with the solutions needed to ensure access for all voters, even those living in nursing homes. But the specifics on what will be a valid ID for voting and exactly how people can get one will have to be written by the next Legislature if voters approve the amendment on Nov. 6.