One of the constitutional amendment proposals Minnesota voters will be facing in November is on voter ID.
Here's the proposed language as crafted by the Legislature:
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution 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?"
Seems simple enough -- until you look what's behind the curtain.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie met with The Free Press editorial board this week and outlined a number of questions we felt were legitimate and warranted further discussion by proponents. Let's take it line by line:
- "All voters voting in person must present valid government issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot."
That's government "issued," not "approved." So what about student IDs and veteran IDs? Unlike other states with voter ID laws, there are no exemptions; not for military voters, absentee voters or those who have religious objections to being photographed.
- "The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section."
Indiana spent $12 million in the first three years of its implementation, not including the costs associated with obtaining birth certificates or other documents. Facing our looming budget shortfall, are we ready to absorb this additional cost?
- "A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot."
Minnesota does not have a provisional ballot system established, so there are startup costs estimated at about $50 million, according to the secretary of state. And $10 million to operate it. And thousands more of election judges. Again, are we ready to assume this financial and administrative burden even at the local level? Almost every local government association has expressed serious concerns about the budgetary impact of the amendment. If local government has to pick up the tab, who do you think is eventually going to pay for that?
- "A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law."
Local government staff must be on hand for proof of identity and ballot boards must be ready to review such ballots.
- "All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to the ballot being cast or counted."
So exactly how does that work for Minnesotans in the armed forces serving overseas? Or absentee ballots? According to the secretary of state's office, there is no other state that requires proof of identity for mail voters.
There are a number of questions voters need answered. If this is set into constitutional law. it is no longer up for tweaking or improvement. That's it. This is the chief reason we were against it as a constitutional amendment rather than as legislation that can be amended, altered and improved.
In the coming months leading up to the vote, we need a vibrant debate about the details of the law, not just the principle of the law.
We are not enacting principle; we are enacting law and all the fine print associated with it.