Photo ID Spotlight Turns To Senators

The question of whether to require voters to produce photo identifications is in the hands of Minnesota senators.

The Senate rules committee today advanced to the full Senate a bill similar to one the House passed early today. The Senate is to begin debate on the measure Friday afternoon.

If the Republican-controlled Senate agrees with the House, Minnesota voters will decide on Nov. 6 whether to amend the state Constitution to include the photo ID requirement.

Today’s Senate committee voice vote was split.

Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, asked bill sponsor Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, if he could point out any voter fraud his photo ID bill would have fixed in recent elections.

“No, I cannot,” Newman said, adding that he will try to come up with some examples.

Republicans said that even if there is no such proof, it is a good idea to stop voter fraud.

For nine hours, House Democrats fought a losing fight late Tuesday into early today.

Democrats dominated the House debate, failing to convince Republicans to amend the bill to fix what they called flaws in the proposal to amend the state Constitution to require a voter photo ID.

At midnight, Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said the Republican-pushed proposal was a rash decision “made in the middle of the night.”

Even bill sponsor Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, hinted the bill could end up in court. “Nothing is too perfect” to keep it from court, she said.

There are indications that the bill will be legally challenged before it reaches Minnesotans’ ballots on Nov. 6.

Democrats argued that there is no fraud and no need to require a photo ID.

“Your word is your bond,” Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said.

It should be the state’s obligation to prove a voter is trying to commit fraud, he said, and the burden should not be placed on a voter.

“This amendment is wrong for Minnesota, it is wrong for America and it is wrong for who you are and for who I am,” Gauthier said.

He accused Republicans of trying to disenfranchise minority, poor and elderly voters who usually favor Democrats.

Even if Minnesota’s election system is mostly sound, Kiffmeyer said, “we don’t say close enough is good enough.”

Every vote, she added, “deserves to be counted accurately and honestly.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat who runs state elections, this morning urged senators to slow the rush to pass the amendment.

“Putting an amendment on the Constitution is serious business that should only be done through a very thoughtful and thorough process. Our state’s Constitution is far too important to be amended on a partisan basis, Ritchie said. “Instead of rushing to pass this amendment, they should give due consideration to the non-partisan, cost-effective alternative that would make it simple to visually verify voters without the need to amend the Constitution.”

Ritchie said photo ID could end Minnesota’s tradition of allowing voters to register on election day because the proposed constitutional amendment would force voters to cast “provisional ballots” that would not be counted until they produce an ID sometime after election day. Ritchie has proposed a photo ID alternative, using electronic poll books that he says would identify voters without the hassle of forcing them to produce an ID.

Republican supporters of the amendment did not accept Ritchie’s arguments before the marathon debate and rejected a Democratic-Farmer-Laborite attempt to amend the bill to include Ritchie’s proposal.