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Issues in the voter photo ID amendment

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ST. PAUL -- Here are some issues related to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Minnesota voters to produce photographic identification before casting ballots:

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Process

The Minnesota Constitution is amended when the Legislature passes a proposed amendment and a majority of voters in a general election approve it. The governor has no official role. The proposed amendment will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Politics: In general, Republicans support the amendment and Democrats oppose it. The GOP-controlled Legislature passed a photo ID bill in 2011, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. That bill would have made a new law; the one on the Nov. 6 ballot would change the state Constitution.

Reasoning

Amendment supporters say they want to make sure only eligible voters cast ballots. Opponents claim Minnesota has the country's cleanest elections and there is no need for change.

Impact: Democrats who oppose the amendment say the proposal is a Republican effort to disenfranchise minority, the elderly and other voters who are less likely to have photo IDs and are less inclined to go through procedures needed to get one. Most of those groups lean Democratic. Republicans say the amendment would not affect one group more than another.

Cost

Proponents and opponents vary greatly on what it would cost to implement the amendment. Supporters say the cost would be very low, mostly to provide free ID cards to the few Minnesotans who do not have one. But local elections officials and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie claim the cost could be much higher, with some estimates topping $100 million. Laws legislators pass to implement the amendment would determine the final cost.

Fraud

Minnesota Majority, a group pushing the amendment, says it has found more than 200 felons who voted in violation of state law. Amendment opponents respond that even felons have photo IDs and the amendment would not stop them from voting. Few other voter fraud cases have been prosecuted.

Provisional ballots

The amendment would allow voters who could not produce a photo ID at the polling place to mark a ballot, but the ballot would not be counted until the voter shows an ID to local elections officials. Opponents say that many people would need to drive long distances to show their IDs and some could not do that.

Absentee ballots

There is a disagreement about how absentee voting would work. Proponents say that laws implementing the amendment would allow mailed absentee ballots, perhaps with copies of a photo ID accompanying the ballot. Opponents say the amendment requires "substantially equivalent" treatment of absentee and in-person voters, which is not possible.

Mail voting

Arguments about mail-in ballots used in some rural areas fall along the same lines as absentee voting, with opponents saying the amendment would end mail voting.

Same-day registration

Ritchie, a voter ID opponent, says the amendment would end Minnesota's practice of allowing voters to register on election day. Amendment supporters, however, argue that a voter could register at the polls but if he does not have a photo ID he would cast a provisional ballot and show his ID later. About 500,000 Minnesotans registered on election day four years ago.

Other states

Thirty states have some form of voter identification requirement, with only Mississippi putting it into the state Constitution. Judges have suspended some of the laws.

What ID?

Supporters say the proposal was written so tribal and military IDs could be accepted at the polls. But the Legislature must decide those details, and questions such as whether a state school ID would be accepted.

Specifics

If the amendment passes Nov. 6, the Legislature and governor would consider bills next year to determine just how it would be implemented.

On the ballot:

"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?"

Full 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."

Not voting

If a voter leaves the amendment part of the ballot blank, it counts as a vote against the amendment. So for a constitutional amendment to be adopted, it must receive a majority of the total number of ballots cast, not just the votes on the amendment.

Davis reports for the Bulletin and other Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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