ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Voters will decide in November whether government-issued photo identification should be required when voting in Minnesota, after lawmakers approved the ballot measure Wednesday and ended a years-long dispute.
Republicans pushed though the proposal despite uniform opposition from Democrats, who argue that the requirement would put an undue burden on a basic right and especially hinder students, the poor and elderly residents. Supporters say it would help build integrity in the voting process, noting that Minnesota has seen a handful of extremely close elections in recent years.
The Senate approved the measure Wednesday afternoon on a 35-29 vote, with only one Republican voting against it, following the House’ 72-57 vote shortly after midnight. Lawmakers had been fighting over the issue for at least five years.
Gov. Mark Dayton cannot veto proposed constitutional amendments, which need only majority support from the Legislature to get on the ballot, but the governor said Wednesday that he would campaign against it.
Many Democrats take issue with the amendment’s new provisional ballot system. A same-day registrant without a proper photo ID would have to cast a provisional ballot that would only count if the voter returned to prove his or her identity. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has said Minnesota has about 500,000 same-day registrants during a presidential election year.
“Provisional balloting is like putting in place a ‘maybe’ pile,” Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said during debate. “It’s not counting who you voted for … provisional ballot means maybe your vote is counted, maybe it’s not.”
Republicans said the amendment would only require voters to fully engage in the democratic process.
“The right to vote is a right,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson. “There is an element in your right to vote of personal responsibility. You have to actively participate.”
The ballot will ask voters: “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?”
Dayton, a Democrat, vetoed legislation last year that would have made the ID requirement state law, which prompted Republicans to pursue the constitutional amendment. Advocacy groups fought back, saying it would make it harder to vote for poor, elderly or disabled residents, students, and others who are less likely to have IDs or who would be unduly burdened to get an ID.
Now, the issue is with voters — and activists on both sides are already preparing campaigns.
Amendment opponents see fundraising and organizing as an uphill climb, noting that the photo ID requirement has registered strong support in polls. Also, a more prominent amendment on the November ballot to ban gay marriage will likely generate more heat and potentially drain fundraising resources.
Likely leaders of “vote no” campaigns said the groups would probably focus on the provisional balloting system and fears of voter suppression.
“We see the polling numbers and we know that there’s a lot of people whose minds we need to change on this issue,” said Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the League of Women Voters. “Once they’re able to understand what the different consequences are we’re able to change peoples’ minds on it.”
Greta Bergstrom, communications director of TakeAction Minnesota, said the progressive advocacy group would help lead a statewide coalition of nonprofit, labor and senior groups to hold local events and advertise that the amendment would “make it harder to vote.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has registered a state ballot committee called Vote No 2012, intended to fund the group’s effort to defeat both the voter ID and gay marriage amendments. Executive Director Chuck Samuelson said that while arguments are already crystallized on both sides of the gay marriage debate, the political landscape for voter ID is still taking shape.
“We didn’t get into the conversation on this voting amendment until relatively recently,” Samuelson said. “This has been a one-sided conversation for a very long time.”
He said the group would ask its 20,000 members and donors in the state to initiate conversations about voter disenfranchisement. He said a personal approach is needed because large-scale events such as rallies “just aren’t going to be effective on a fairly complicated issue.”
Fredrick Wang said opponents have been galvanized by recent court defeats of voter ID requirements in other states such as Wisconsin, but she predicted fundraising would be “an uphill battle.”
Supporters of the amendment see an easier path.
“It’s a pretty easy sell really,” said Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, a conservative group that’s backing both the photo ID and gay marriage amendments.
“The primary mission would be to counter the misinformation that’s coming from opposition to the bill. The point that we’re going to try to get across is that voter ID is just common sense,” he said.
McGrath said his group is planning for a potential rally and speaking events, along with lawn signs, bumper stickers, and television and radio advertising. But he said the fight over voter ID won’t come close to consuming their resources.
“I don’t think it’ll be nearly as expensive as the marriage amendment,” McGrath said. “We’re not going to have to spend a lot of money to keep people of the opinion that they already have.”
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