UPDATE: After more than 9 hours of floor debate, at just after 2 am yesterday, the Minnesota House passed its version of the voter ID constitutional amendment (HF 2738), sponsored by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer. The Senate moved on its version earlier this month, and now a floor vote appears imminent. Once both chambers agree, rules state that the question will bypass Governor Mark Dayton and go to the voters in November.
Minnesota is currently fighting voting rights battles on multiple fronts, including voter ID and same-day registration.
The voter ID battle began last session when the state legislature passed SF 509, legislation requiring photo ID. Following Governor Dayton’s veto, supporters vowed to carry on. Now a voter ID constitutional amendment (SF 1577) is making its way through the Senate. Yesterday it passed the Finance Committee and will next go to the Rules Committee.
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee approved the measure today by a [party-line] vote of 9 – 6, sending it next to the Rules Committee. State officials estimate that local governments would have to spend $104,000 to place the question on the statewide ballot this fall. If it passes, they estimate first-year local costs at between $8.3 million and $23.3 million, depending on whether new electronic poll books are purchased. Finance Chair Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said Minnesota Management and Budget couldn’t pin down the exact cost because lawmakers would still have to work out the details of the ID requirement during the 2013 session.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has suggested a possible compromise:
The proposed legislative fix of state election law would incorporate "electronic poll books," technology that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has advocated as a less-expensive alternative to a state-issued voter ID card.
Ritchie, a Democrat, appeared recently before a Senate subcommittee to discuss the benefits of the system, which would allow election officials to look up existing drivers’ license photos or to take new photos of each voter up at the polling place.
"It doesn’t disrupt absentee voting, or voting by service personnel overseas," he said. "It doesn’t disrupt our voter registration system, our same-day registration system. It doesn’t disenfranchise anybody."
Though its traction is yet unclear.
Republicans in the House and Senate passed a voter ID requirement last year, but Dayton vetoed it. State Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, a sponsor of last year’s bill, said he has been working with the governor and the secretary of state this session on an updated version. Howe said electronic poll books would help achieve the goal of proper voter identification.
"I can’t speak to whether this does anything on the constitutional amendment for photo ID," Howe said. "But I can tell you that I personally, along with many of my colleagues, want to see things done as much as we can legislatively."
In other news, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, joined by the Minnesota Freedom Council and Representative Sondra Erickson (another ALEC member), has filed a lawsuit that could greatly impact the state’s same-day registration system. The plaintiffs contend that same-day registrants should face the same eligibility checks faced by advance registrants, and their votes should not be counted until their eligibility is verified.
There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction. The fact is that same-day registration increases voter turnout and is good for democracy.
For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.