Voter Photo ID Law

by Kim Hyatt

“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?”

On Nov. 6, people will be answering this question addressing the proposed requirement that all Minnesotans provide government-issued photo identification to vote.

The Voter Photo ID Law is a political flashpoint of this year’s general election. The basis of this law is to ensure a registered voter is actually who they say they are and they’re not committing voter fraud, according to a PBS article by Suevon Lee.

Although there have only been a small number of cases dealing with voter fraud, according to Lee, the question of whether or not further precautions to combat voter fraud are needed will be the decision of the people come November.

Proponents of the amendment say vote “yes” to protect the vote, while opponents say vote “no” to protect democracy. Both are battling over voters, campaigning to educate them before reaching the polls.

“There are a few groups of people that will be directly affected by this,” said City Councilor Patrick Boyle in a recent telephone interview. “Students are number one.”

Echoing the concerns of Boyle, other Duluth city officials held a news conference addressing their concerns over the proposed voter photo ID amendment. Mayor Don Ness, St. Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell and City Councilor Sharla Gardner ralliedyagainst the mandate, urging community members to “vote no.”

Roughly 1,000 students, specifically those who are first time voters and/or out-of-state, would be disenfranchised because they lack a proper photo ID, according to Boyle.

Representing students at the conference was Bridget Ideker, a UMD graduate currently enrolled at the College of St. Scholastica.

“As students, we’re moving all the time,” said Ideker. “My permanent address is my parents’ in southern Minnesota.”

In past elections, Ideker was able to vote under the current state statute by just using her drivers license, although not enclosing her current address, along with proof of current residency (e.g. Minnesota Power bill).

Now, this is where the water gets muddied.

Although simple, the wording of this amendment is the cause of most debate between challengers and supporters.

Proponents and opponents interpret the amendment differently, especially in regard to “valid photo identification.”

Opponents, like Greater MN Counts, claim the unknowns, like what types of ID the amendment would qualify as “valid,” would remain unknown until the legislation enacts in the summer of 2013.

In a recent Star Tribune article, one of the amendment’s leading supporters, Senator Scott Newman, said changes will be made to clarify the legislation’s language and ultimately “restore confidence” in the election system.

Those, like Ideker, who lack the government-issued photo ID have options: They can receive a “provisional ballot,” meaning a voter can cast their ballot on Election Day but must provide documentation in order to get the ballot counted within a certain time frame before the vote is actually counted.

Many question what this would mean for Election Day registration.

The League of Women Voters highlights flaws within the provisional ballot, stating that the voter would have to travel to their local election office within a few days after the election to provide a valid photo ID. In the case of Ideker, this would mean she would have to travel back home to southern Minnesota to prove she is who she is.

“How do we (students) have time to get these documents when we are working, in clubs and in class?” Ideker said.

However, supporters say it isn’t this complicated. Protect My Vote, the official ballot committee established to pass the Minnesota Voter ID Amendment, says any photo ID along with proof of residency will work.

Until the legislation either fails or passes, it is unclear whether Ideker and students like her will be able to vote with what she has or if she will need further identification.

The debate also gets fiery when trying to decipher what the photo ID amendment would mean for voting same-day, mail-in and absentee.

What is clear, though, is that this amendment has a price.

Citizens could pay for the documents needed to get an ID, like a birth certificate that costs $26 in Minnesota, according to Greater MN Counts.

Based on legislation vetoed in 2011, the Minnesota Association of County Officers estimated a state fiscal impact exceeding $32.4 million in the first year.

“This amendment would be lessening the impact of everyday citizens,” said Duluth Mayor Don Ness at the conference beside community members in opposition of the amendment.

Currently, states are jumping on the restrictive voting law bandwagon, as polls show many are in support of legislation similar to that which Minnesota faces.

So far, 17 states require that IDs presented at the polls on Election Day must show a photo of the voter, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

How are students in Minnesota projected to vote on this amendment?

A recent Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) showed that 53 percent of the students surveyed were likely to vote yes, 34 percent likely to vote no, and 12.3 percent unsure how they will vote on that question.

Ready to Rage

Of Donkeys and Elephants: Boozers, Losers, and Shmoozers