Politics and Government

MN Senate Republicans pass voter ID bill

People at voting booths.
Voters cast their ballots at the Dilworth Community Center in Dilworth, Minn., on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Republicans in the Minnesota Senate want to require voters to show a photo ID before casting their ballots.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News 2020

The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate has passed a requirement that voters show a photo ID, even though opposition from DFL Gov. Tim Walz and House majority Democrats makes it unlikely to become law this year. The vote for the Republican-backed bill was 34-32 and fell along party lines. 

Supporters say the voter ID measure would protect election integrity. Critics argue that it would suppress the vote. The debate has gone on for years, and Minnesotans rejected a voter ID constitutional amendment in 2012.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, introduced the measure to put the ID requirement in state law last year, but COVID-19 concerns pushed it aside. Newman is convinced that people want it because they are concerned about voter fraud.

“There are millions of voters across this nation that are losing faith that their vote counts,” Newman said. “I have a computer file full of emails from voters and constituents across the state of Minnesota that are literally begging us to go forward with this voter ID bill.”

Newman and other Republicans insist that voter fraud is real and must be stopped. Democrats contend the bill is a solution in search of a problem.

Voters have been facing a tidal wave of misinformation about voting and the results of the last election, said Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, adding that she was disappointed that lawmakers were working on what she views as partisan anti-voter legislation.

“The myth of voter fraud and the resulting push of restrictive legislative proposals is unacceptable,” Port said. “We should be doing work to solve actual problems instead of imposing policies that place deliberate barriers in place of people exercising their right to vote.”

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said he believes many disabled Minnesotans and the elderly would have a hard time meeting the ID requirement.

“This bill makes it harder for Minnesotans to vote,” Frentz said. “We should not do things that make it harder to vote. People want to vote.”

Newman insisted that people who want to vote would be able to. 

“Absolutely no one is prevented from voting by reason of this bill,” he said. 

Under the bill, eligible Minnesotans would need to show a photo ID when voting in person or when casting an absentee ballot. A new provisional ballot system would be established for people unable to produce an ID on Election Day. There would also be a new voter identification card established and provided free to those who need it.

A companion bill in the House has not received any committee hearings. There are just two weeks left in the session, with budget work expected to occupy nearly all of that time.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said the bill provides a common sense safety step that is required for many activities.

“For cashing checks. For getting on airplanes. For proving to an officer you are who you are, if they pull you over for speeding,” Westrom said. “Whatever the issue is, IDs are used all the time, and this bill gives free IDs if somebody doesn’t have one.”