Senate Republicans want to renew voter ID push in 2020; DFLers say no way

Senate GOP leaders at podium
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and other Republican lawmakers outlined their agenda for the 2020 legislative session during a news conference earlier this month.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate said they will renew their push for a voter ID law during the election-year legislative session that begins next month, saying the requirement would help prevent voter fraud.

But Democrats say they have no interest in taking up the issue that state voters rejected in 2012, when a proposed constitutional amendment failed by a margin of 52 percent to 46 percent.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he thinks more Minnesotans are now open to the idea.

“People want to make sure that the election process is fair, that they can trust it. And a lot of people wonder, ‘Why in the world would you not have to present an ID for that when you have to do it for everything else?’” he said.

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Senate Republicans listed the voter ID issue on their agenda for the 2020 session. This time, it will be considered as a legislative proposal, not a ballot measure.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, championed the proposed constitutional amendment in 2012 and will introduce the voter ID bill in this year's legislative session.

"I'm going to use the same argument that I used in 2012 — that it's simply an additional tool to protect our voter integrity,” he said, adding that he’s undeterred by the ballot defeat eight years ago.

Looking back at those results, Newman believes that Minnesotans actually supported a voter ID requirement at the time, but they didn't want it added to the state constitution.

"Constitutional amendments, historically, the voters accept some and they reject others. Voters really don't want you monkeying around with our constitution very much,” he said.

Democrats largely reject the voter fraud argument, and they remain firmly opposed to voter ID.

DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden, of Minneapolis, said the proposed requirement would suppress the vote among the poor and people of color, who are often less likely to have current IDs.

"It has been a consistent strategy going back to the Jim Crow South at creating barriers for people for them to be able to vote,” Hayden said. “I just think for the Senate Republicans to kind of bring this back after the voters firmly rejected it is shortsighted, it's oppressive and, dare I say, I think it's racist."

The Republican-controlled Senate could pass a voter ID bill this year, but the DFL-controlled House is another story.

“I think it’s a bizarre choice to include in the discussion of this session,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. He agreed with Hayden that it’s a voter suppression effort and said there is zero chance of such a measure passing this year.

"It’s very much contrary to our core values about democracy, representation and people’s access to the ballot,” he said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 36 states with laws on the books that request or require voters to show some form of identification at the polls.

In 2012, Republicans controlled the Senate and House. They were able to put the constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot without the signature of then-Gov. Mark Dayton.

This time, as legislation, DFL Gov. Tim Walz would need to sign the bill for it to become law. Walz said he has no interest in the proposal.

“Certainly, we know that voter fraud is such a rare occurrence,” Walz said. “This is a solution looking for a problem that’s not there, simply to make it more difficult.”