Minnesota GOP governor hopefuls all back voter ID

Election Day begins at MLK Rec. Ctr. in 2016
Election Day begins at Martin Luther King Recreation Center in St. Paul on November 8, 2016.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

State Rep. Matt Dean counts himself among those who believe there is voter fraud in Minnesota. There is no evidence of any widespread problem, but Dean still favors tighter voting rules, including voter ID.

"They can say 'well, there's never been as case of voter fraud found in Minnesota.' How would you ever know?" asked Dean, R-Dellwood, who's competing for the 2018 Republican nomination for governor.

Similar claims were made in 2012 when Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required people who wanted to vote to show a photo ID. Only 46 percent backed the ballot question.

Minn. House Majority Leader Matt Dean
House Majority Leader Matt Dean talks with the media about the outcome of the elections Nov. 7, 2012.
Alex Kolyer for MPR News

Despite the 2012 results, Dean and Republican candidates Jeff Johnson, Keith Downey and state Sen. Dave Osmek, insist the issue is far from settled. They blame the defeat on the campaign, not the concept, and remain convinced that most Minnesotans favor a photo ID requirement for voting.

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And unlike 2012, a Republican in the governor's office with a GOP-controlled House and Senate would not need to ask voters to weigh in on the change, as Republicans in the Legislature did five years ago to get around DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's veto pen.

Opponents of voter ID frequently raise concerns about disenfranchisement. They insist such laws discriminate against elderly, poor and minority voters, who are less likely to have IDs.

Johnson, the Hennepin County commissioner making his second bid for governor, views it as a simple way to restore faith in the election system.

Dayton and Johnson debate in Duluth
Gov. Mark Dayton, left, during a debate with Republican challenger Jeff Johnson on Oct. 14, 2014, at the Duluth Playhouse.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

"Because there are a lot of people that believe cheating is going on, if there's way to address that without disenfranchising people we ought to do that."

Osmek, R-Mound, doesn't believe an ID requirement would suppress the vote.

"If you want to exercise your franchise to vote, don't you think you should at least be a little bit more prepared than saying 'oh that's right, it's Election Day today and I need an ID and I didn't get it.' I mean, come on. Don't you take your franchise to vote a little more seriously than that?"

A tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows 34 states will request or require voters to show some form of identification next year. Seven states, including Wisconsin, enforce a strict photo ID requirement.

Sample voter ID
A sample of a proposed Voter ID in Georgia, in a file photo from Jan. 24, 2006. Georgia requires a photo ID to vote.
Ric Feld | AP

Downey, a former Republican Party chair claims such requirements have not deterred people from voting.

"We have seen in other states, Indiana for example, where it actually increases the franchise. More people vote because they know they can vote because they have an ID."

One of the state's leading voter ID opponents disagrees.

"I'm hard pressed to believe restricting the right to vote increases voter turnout," said Dan McGrath, executive director of the group TakeAction Minnesota.

Rally against voter ID
About 200 people marched through south Minneapolis on Aug. 26, 2012, in opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
Conrad Wilson | MPR

McGrath, who ran the statewide effort to defeat the 2012 constitutional amendment, said he's surprised to hear Republican candidates making the same arguments heard five years ago. Voters settled the issue, he said.

"I don't see how Minnesotans could be any more definitive than having the ballot question be put in front of them and for 54 percent say this is a bad deal for Minnesota," he added. "That's as clear as the people of this state can be."