On November 6th Minnesotans will vote on whether to amend the state Constitution.
And one of the proposed amendments will change how future Minnesota elections work.
It's called the Voter ID amendment.
Right now, you don't need a photo identification card in order to cast a ballot. The amendment would change that.
If it passes, it would make a number of other changes to the voting system, too -- but we won't find out how they'll work until sometime next year.
The amendment creates several requirements. But either the Legislature, the courts or both will decide how to implement them.
Let's start with the requirements. The question you'll see on your ballot mentions two of them.
1. You need a valid photo ID to vote. 2. And the state must give free IDs to eligible voters.
But the proposed amendment has three times as many words as the ballot question. And it adds several more requirements:
-In addition to being valid, the photo ID will have to be government-issued -Minnesota would need to set up a new system of provisional balloting -And all voters (including absentee voters) will be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification
The amendment would make these requirements part of the state constitution, but it doesn't define what they mean or specify how they would work.
What counts as a valid, government-issued photo ID? Does it need to have your current address on it? Right now college kids can use their student IDs to register to vote. Would those count?
It says voters who don't have the right ID on election day would get to cast provisional ballots. Those ballots would be counted only if the voter certifies the ballot later. But doesn't say how that would process would work. How much time would you have to certify the ballot? What would certifying it involve?
And then there's the part about making sure all voters are subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification. What would that mean for absentee voters? What about people voting in person? How would it effect same-day registration?
The amendment leaves the answers to all these questions up to the state legislature. If they can't reach an agreement with the governor and pass a law, a court will have to fill in the blanks instead.
Lots of states have passed voter ID laws, but they weren't faced with this level of uncertainty.
Of the 33 states that have some kind of voter ID law, the National Conference of State Legislatures says only nine have the kind of strict requirement proposed in Minnesota. And all but one of those states enacted the requirement through the normal legislative process, so there weren't a lot questions about how the new requirements would work. The only state that's put voter ID in its constitution is Mississippi.
And while both sides in the voter ID debate make predictions about how it will work here, the fact of the matter is: We don't know, exactly. The entire Legislature is up for election this year. So we don't even know who will be writing the rules for the new system if it passes.
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