Voter ID bill clears Minnesota Senate panel

People line up in front of a voting sign.
People line up to vote early inside of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Jan. 17, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

A Minnesota Senate panel has advanced a Republican-backed measure to require voters to show photo identification when casting a ballot.

Members of the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections committee voted 5-4 Thursday along party lines to send the bill next to the Transportation Committee.

Supporters of the voter ID bill are trying to do legislatively what they failed to accomplish in 2012 as a constitutional amendment. Voters that year rejected the proposal by 139,128 votes.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said that his bill is still needed as a tool for fighting voter fraud. He wants the issue to get another look.

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“We have had a number of studies that have been completed, there’s a lot of new data on this topic, and there are court cases that have been decided, none of which we had in 2012,” he said.

Newman pointed specifically to Indiana’s voter ID law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said the elements of that ruling match what he wants to accomplish in Minnesota.

Under the Senate bill, the state would provide voter identification cards to Minnesotans at no cost. It would also establish a new system of provisional ballots for people who are unable to prove their identity and residence.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, testified against the bill. He said it’s an example of the proposed cure being worse than the disease.

“The problem of improper voting in Minnesota is very small, Simon said. “It is isolated. It is contained.”

The legislation has a dim future. There is no companion legislation in the DFL-controlled House, and Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has made it clear that he is not a fan of the proposal. Walz urged Senate Republicans to spend their time on issues other than voter ID.

“It’s not going to go anywhere, and they know it,” Walz said.