State: Ritchie title case could affect past constitutional amendments

The Minnesota attorney general’s office says a case the state Supreme Court heard this morning could jeopardize constitutional amendments passed in the last 90 years.

Solicitor General Alan Gilbert told justices that if they overturn Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s titles for two proposed constitutional amendments to appear on Nov. 6 ballots, it also could mean some of the 62 amendments voters passed since 1919 could be tossed out.

Republicans who wrote the amendments say Democrat Ritchie wrote titles designed to influence voters to vote against them. In doing so, he rejected the GOP-written titles.

Gilbert argued to the justices that a 1919 law gave the secretary of state the duty to write titles. And, he said, since past secretaries of state have followed that law, those amendments “potentially” could be invalid.

The solicitor general, however, said he did not know how many of the 62 amendments had titles penned by secretaries of state and how many were under legislative-written titles, like the 2008 amendment to raise sales taxes to fund outdoors and arts projects.

Attorney Jordan Lorence, representing GOP lawmakers and others who say Ritchie violated the state Constitution, disagreed with Gilbert. He said it is not accurate to say the case could overturn 90 years’ of history, adding that none of the previous amendments would be affected.

Lorence argued that the case boiled down to whether Richie or legislators had the authority to write the titles. He claimed that the Constitution gives that power to the Legislature.

One constitutional amendment proposal would define marriage as between a man and a woman. The Republican-written title was “Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman,” but Ritchie changed it to “Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples.”

The other proposal is to require Minnesota voters to show a photo ID. The original title was “Photo identification required for voting,” while Ritchie’s re-written version is “Changes to in-person and absentee voting and voter registration; provisional ballots.”

There are three parts to each constitutional amendment proposal: the title, a question summarizing the issue and the full amendment. The first two appear on voters’ ballots, but the full amendment may not.

Both sides in today’s case said it was possible the justices could order the entire amendments to appear on the ballot without titles or summaries. That also was discussed in another case.

That other case in front of the justices claims the summary on the voter ID amendment is not accurate and that the amendment should not appear on the ballot.

Justices are expected to make a quick decision. Ritchie, in charge of the state’s elections, said that what is to appear on the ballots needs to be decided by Aug. 27.

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