Court says Ritchie overstepped authority by rewriting ballot titles

Legislators have the duty to write ballot titles for proposed constitutional amendments, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today, eliminating those that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie rewrote earlier this year.

The court also ruled that a proposal to require Minnesota voters to show photo identifications before casting ballots will be in front of Minnesotans on Nov. 6, despite arguments that the language appearing on the ballot is too vague.

Two of the six justices considering the case disagreed with the majority on the ballot title issue.

“Based on our construction of (state law), we hold that the secretary of state erred and exceeded his authority when he provided titles for the ballot questions on the proposed marriage  and voter identification amendments different from the titles chosen by the Legislature,” four justices wrote. “Instead, the appropriate titles the secretary of state must provide are the titles passed by the Legislature.”

Republican legislators and others who disputed Ritchie’s rewritten titles said the Democratic secretary of state wrote titles designed to produce votes against the GOP-pushed proposed amendments. Ritchie opposes both.

The photo ID case, also with two dissents, was filed by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and others who said information to be on the ballot was too vague to accurately represent the actual proposed amendment.

“The proper role for the judiciary, however, is not to second-guess the wisdom of policy decisions that the Constitution commits to one of the political branches,” the majority justices wrote. “The people are the sole judge of the wisdom of such matters.”

The high court combined two cases challenging Ritchie’s rewriting of the proposed constitutional amendment titles into one case.

Last month, Solicitor General Alan Gilbert told justices that if they overturn Ritchie’s titles some of the 62 amendments voters passed since 1919 could be tossed out.

Attorney Jordan Lorence, representing GOP lawmakers and others who claim Ritchie violated the state Constitution, said 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 usually does not.

The second case in front of the court was brought by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and others opposed to requiring voters to produce photo IDs before casting ballots.

The question is whether the proposed amendment is accurately summarized on the ballot.

Attorney Bill Pentelovitch told justices the summary does not tell voters that requiring a photo ID would require “provisional ballots.” Those are ballots cast by people without a photo ID that would be set aside and not counted until the voters produce a photo ID. He also said the amendment would eliminate voter registration on election day.

 

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Here is the voter ID proposed constitutional amendment:

“All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. 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. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law.

“All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.”

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This is the language voters would see on their Nov. 6 ballots:

“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?”

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