ST. PAUL — Supporters of a proposed Minnesota voter ID amendment say it will protect the integrity of the state's election system, while opponents point to several studies finding the kind of fraud the proposed requirement is designed to prevent is extremely rare.
Weeks before voters get the chance to decide whether to approve an amendment to the state constitution to require a photo ID at the polls, deep divisions persist about whether it's needed, Minnesota Public Radio reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/Sxh7lt ).
Dan McGrath, who runs the pro-amendment campaign Protect My Vote, said the group has found that Minnesota topped all states in the number of voter fraud convictions linked to a single election — nearly 200 convictions from 2008, when Democrat Al Franken defeated Republican Norm Coleman in the U.S. Senate race by a razor-thin 312 vote margin after a recount and court challenges.
McGrath said that means fraud "played a role" in the race.
"Now, it may have impacted the way the election went. I don't know," McGrath said. "We can't know that, and that leads to problems, when someone is sitting in office as a representative of the people, and we don't know whether we actually elected them or not."
McGrath concedes other kinds of alleged fraud, such as voter impersonation, are difficult to prove.
Voter ID opponents say this fall's proposed amendment wouldn't do anything to solve the problems McGrath has identified.
The Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education project "News21" released an analysis last month of more than 2,000 alleged election-fraud cases nationwide over the past 12 years. It concluded that while fraud has occurred, the rate is "infinitesimal," and in-person voter impersonation is "virtually non-existent."
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said the proposed amendment would not stop felons who are still on probation from voting because they could easily possess a valid identification. Samuelson also contends people trying to vote using someone else's name simply isn't happening.
"The issue of voter impersonation just doesn't exist. It doesn't exist anywhere," Samuelson said. "Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or knowingly spreading falsehoods."
Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said the amendment is more likely to disenfranchise voters than prevent voter fraud.
"I think the number of people who are going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to get their ballot counted is going too far, far outweigh the one or two votes that get counted in any given election that maybe shouldn't have been," Wang said.
Such arguments don't sway voters like Rollie Nissen, who attended a recent campaign event in St. Paul and described voter ID as common sense.
"If there weren't cheating going on, we wouldn't need highway patrolmen, game wardens, referees at athletics events," Nissen said. "All of those things require somebody looking over your shoulder. So, why wouldn't you take a close look at who's voting?"
Peter Nelson, director of public policy at the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank, said any fraud is too much.
"We don't believe that there is a lot of fraud in the system," Nelson said. "But we believe that even a small amount of fraud justifies doing this. Because even a small amount of fraud can make the difference in an election."