Overwhelmingly Popular Voter ID Measure in Hands of Minnesota Supreme Court

Published Tue, Jun 12 2012 9:15 AM

In April, the Minnesota legislature approved a voter ID constitutional amendment, and next month, the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to decide if the measure will actually go before voters this November. If it does, the measure is likely to pass, as an overwhelming 80 percent of Minnesotans support voter ID, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota poll.

 

Republicans have promoted voter ID as legislation needed to prevent vote fraud and “moderniz[e] a 19th-century system of registration,” according to state Sen. Warren Limmer. The measure would have Minnesota join 30 other states that currently require voters to present some form of identification when voting.

 

With an identification requirement, the measure would eliminate the state’s current “vouching system,” which allows one registered voter to vouch for the eligibility of the other voter when registering on election day. To date, there have been allegations of “vouching” fraud in previous Minnesota elections.

 

In the 2010 midterms, for example, it is alleged that President Obama’s Organizing for America group directed members to congregate outside polling places and assign students to “vouch” for other students they did not know. One Minnesota precinct had nearly 500 of 800 votes cast by same-day registrants, with many voters using the “vouching” system.

 

“It is our intent to eliminate the vouching system in Minnesota,” said state Senator Scott Newman (R), the bill’s sponsor. “I believe [it] is ready-made for voter fraud.”

 

While the amendment contains a voter ID requirement, the measure would leave in place the state’s current same-day registration, absentee voting, and college and military access rules. “We are truly not targeting any class of voters except those who are attempting to vote and doing so illegally or not being eligible,” said Newman.

 

Minnesota Republicans passed this voter ID measure through the legislature last year, but Gov. Mark Drayton (D) vetoed the bill. In response, the legislature approved a voter ID constitutional amendment in April, whose passage is decided by a referendum instead of by the anti-voter ID governor.

 

As written, the amendment would ask voters at the ballot box if the Minnesota Constitution should be amended “to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013.”

 

Opponents of voter ID, including the Minnesota ACLU, the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause, have filed suit to block the measure from reaching voters. Pursuant to Minnesota Stat. § 204B.44, the Minnesota Supreme Court has original jurisdiction on election law issues, so the court will make the first and only judicial determination (absent a federal question) after oral arguments scheduled for July 17.

 

Pursuant to an interpretation of Article IX, Section 1 of the state Constitution, Minnesota courts can strike a ballot question if it is found to be defective. As a result, opponents argue the ballot question is “false, misleading, and an incomplete description of what the amendment would do” and should be struck.

 

In essence, the anti-voter ID forces contend the ballot question, as recited above, “omits” elements that would enter the state constitution if the voter ID measure were approved. The text itself provides details, including that the ID be made available for free to those who need it, and that voters lacking ID be permitted to cast a provisional ballot that will subsequently count if they later present ID.

 

Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, a group in support of voter ID, believes the language is perfectly clear. “The heart and soul of the constitutional amendment is photographic identification,” he said.

 

As long as the Minnesota Supreme Court agrees with McGrath and sides with the overwhelming number of Minnesotans who favor voter ID, the state’s citizens will get to vote in November on whether they should be required to present identification the next time they visit the polls.

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