With unchanging arguments, debaters spar over value of voter ID amendmentby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — With days left before Election Day, both sides of the voter ID constitutional amendment are making last pitches, which over months of campaigning have not changed much.
The proposed requirement for voters to show photo identification to get a ballot is either a common sense protection that the public is demanding or a costly and confusing measure that's too harsh for enshrinement in the state constitution.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have been echoing those basic arguments since the end of the 2012 session, when Republicans passed the amendment bill without any DFL votes. They were at it again Tuesday evening when two state lawmakers debated the highly partisan issue during an MPR News broadcast from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the chief House author of the amendment bill and a former secretary of state, said it will protect the election system.
"Integrity in the election system is the foundation for our entire process. You have trillions of dollars at stake, untold quantities of power from school boards all the way up to president," Kiffmeyer said. "The integrity of our election system is crucial, so we have confidence in the outcome and those who serve and the issues they deal with."
Kiffmeyer claimed that the proposed amendment was "artfully written" to ensure that all eligible voters can vote if they prove who they are with a photo identification.
But her debate opponent, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, described the amendment as a poorly written mess that would invite lawsuits if passed. Simon also said legislators should come up with voting requirements and leave amending the Minnesota Constitution out of it.
"When you put something in the constitution, you are writing in permanent ink and you're placing something of real importance above the heads and beyond the reach of future legislators and governors," Simon said. "That is wrong, especially for something as sloppy and slapdash as this particular amendment."
Simon argued that passage of the amendment would give Minnesota the nation's harshest voter ID law, because it lacks the exemptions other states have provided for the elderly, soldiers or absentee voters.
But many of the details may not be known until next year when state lawmakers would have to pass the legislation needed to put the requirement in place. A third debate participant, Doug Chapin of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School, said the jury is still out on the law's harshness.
"I think the student issue you've heard about, the military issue you've heard about, the different populations like tribes and the like you've heard about. Every one of those will be in play in enacting legislation," Chapin said. "Until we know what's in that legislation, we won't know exactly where to place Minnesota's photo ID law in the range of laws across the country."
But Kiffmeyer said the amendment is flexible enough to make sure same-day registration, absentee voting, voting by mail and military voting can continue. She also said she expects the valid forms of photo identification to include a driver's license, state ID, passport, military ID or tribal ID. Kiffmeyer said she does not believe there would be any disenfranchised voters.
"I am not interested in making this hugely difficult. Like every time I hear the opponents, they seem to want to weigh it down with all kinds of complexities," Kiffmeyer said. "My desire is to make sure that you're eligible and then you vote."
While Kiffmeyer tried to discredit the disenfranchisement claims of opponents, Simon went after the voter fraud issue, saying he does not believe there have been any cases of a voter pretending to be another.
"If I went into a polling place at 2:00 p.m., and wanted to vote, and someone said 'wait a minute Steve, you already voted a few hours ago, see your signature in the voting book,' I'd call the cops," Simon said. "I'd call the secretary of state's office. I called the media. So, would everyone listening in your audience right now, and it hasn't happened."
Simon and Kiffmeyer also offered sharply different estimates on the price tag for implementing voter ID. Simon said it could be as high as $150 million, but Kiffmeyer said the first year costs would be far less — about $3.5 million. Election expert Chapin, who stressed that he is officially neutral on voter ID, said the ultimate cost will likely fall somewhere in the middle.
- Morning Edition, 10/31/2012, 7:20 a.m.