A misguided 'solution' in search of a problem
St. Paul, Minn. — The proposed "Photo ID" constitutional amendment is too harsh. While its surface-level appeal is understandable (since most people use photo ID in everyday life), its real-world effects could bring radical and unpopular changes that may undermine election integrity.
The nursing home resident, the college student, the military service member deployed overseas, and even the person who moves to a new neighborhood just before an election -- all could face new burdens that keep them from voting.
Minnesotans should see the proposal for what it is: A cynical and misguided attempt to place permanent barriers where none are needed. The proposed amendment is a misguided "solution" in search of a problem. There's almost no election fraud in Minnesota.
The 2008 election yielded 38 convictions (out of a state of 5 million people) for illegal voting or registration - all of which involved an ineligible felon. Because felons have valid photo identification, the amendment wouldn't even solve the only (and tiny) problem that exists.
Instead, the proposal targets something for which there has been no recent conviction: Voter impersonation. The amendment's wording would make Minnesota the harshest state in America for voter verification. For example, the proposal would require "government-issued photo identification." A student at the University of Minnesota could use a student ID to vote, but a student at St. Thomas couldn't.
More generally, the "government-issued" requirement is much stricter than the photo ID laws in most other states, where any college ID, bank statement, utility bill or even a "neighborhood ID card" will do. The amendment could undercut or eliminate reforms that make Minnesota a national model. Our voter turnout is consistently the highest in the nation, in part because of same-day voter registration.
But that system may soon be unconstitutional -- because the amendment would require that all voters be subject to "substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification."
Even the amendment's authors can't say what that awkward phrase means.
Right now, Minnesota screens pre-election registrants using several methods that can't be duplicated for same-day registrants. The same lack of "substantially equivalent" procedures applies to mail-in absentee ballots, which hundreds of thousands of voters use.
Amendment backers want to provide "provisional ballots" to voters who either lack the correct "government-issued" ID or who want to vote in way that is not "substantially equivalent" to in-person voting.
But a "provision ballot" sits uncounted until the voter has complied with (as yet unspecified) requirements for eligibility verification. Based on recent same-day registration and absentee voting, over 500,000 Minnesotans may have to vote provisionally if the amendment passes.
Apart from delaying election results, the hassle of voting provisionally could drive down turnout -- particularly among seniors, students, and Minnesotans overseas. A mess is avoidable.
Voting "No" in November means choosing a more thoughtful approach to voter verification. Changes to fundamental rights like voting deserve careful scrutiny. There's no good reason to amend our Constitution with something as strict and sloppy and as the current "Photo ID" proposal.
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, is assistant minority leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
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