Voter ID bill clears Senate committee amid squabbling

A voter sign with a flag sits outside
A "vote here" sign sits outside the El Rio Vista Recreation Center in St. Paul on Nov. 3.
Kathryn Styer Martinez | MPR News 2020

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate have renewed their push for a requirement that people show a photo ID in order to vote. 

Members of the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee held a hearing Wednesday on legislation that would establish a requirement that voters provide valid photo identification when casting a ballot in-person or absentee. The bill would also provide voter ID cards to those who need them.

Those unable to produce photo identification would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said his bill would provide a “modern” election tool.

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“It’s to protect the integrity of the Minnesota election process, so that those citizens who have properly voted will not be disenfranchised by votes illegally cast and counted,” Newman said.

The panel advanced the bill on a 5-3 vote, with all Democrats voting against it.

Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, said Minnesota’s election system is already honest, accurate and secure.

“Continuing to promote the non-confidence in our elections is a disservice to our constituents,” Carlson said.

Gov. Tim Walz opposes voter ID and the bill is unlikely to move in the DFL House.

DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon testified against the bill. He raised concerns about elderly Minnesotans not having the needed identification and being unable to vote. Simon is also against the establishment of provisional ballots and the possibility of those votes not getting tallied.

“It would create a maybe list — maybe we’ll count them, maybe we won’t — for the first time in Minnesota history,” Simon said.

But Simon’s references to the 2020 election, including what he termed as “lies” and “a tidal wave of misinformation” about the outcome, riled some Republicans on the panel.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the committee chair and a former secretary of state, said Simon’s tone was unacceptable.

“It’s a great disservice and a great disrespect to the citizens of Minnesota,” Kiffmeyer said.