MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Four groups petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday to remove from the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voters to present photo IDs at the polls, saying the language that voters will see doesn’t accurately describe the amendment.
“The ballot question, which is the only thing that voters will see, is false and misleading,” Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said at a news conference. He also said it could effectively end Minnesota’s system that allows voters to register at the polls because it would be impossible to verify their identities against other records in time.
Also joining in the petition are the League of Women Voters of Minnesota, Common Cause Minnesota, Jewish Community Action and five individual Minnesota voters. They include a 92-year-old nun, a combat medic who will still be deployed in Afghanistan with the Wisconsin National Guard come Election Day, a member of the La Courte Oreilles Band of Chippewa who uses a tribal ID, and two college students. They all say they fear their voting rights will be weakened by a photo ID requirement.
The ballot language approved by the Legislature reads, “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?”
That’s a misleading description of what the amendment actually says, said William Pentelovitch, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. He said the ballot question falsely states that it would require photo IDs from all voters when the amendment would require them only from people who vote in person, not those who vote by absentee ballot. He said the ballot language also says the state would provide free IDs to eligible voters while the amendment says free IDs would be provided only to people who don’t already have a government-issued photo ID.
The ballot language is also misleading, Pentelovitch said, because it fails to disclose that the amendment would require the Legislature to set up procedures for casting provisional ballots — something Minnesota doesn’t have now — for voters who are unable to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls. Nor does the ballot language disclose that the amendment specifies government-issued IDs, which he said leaves open the impression that student IDs or company IDs may suffice.
The Legislature approved the ballot question this spring in a largely party-line split. Republicans say photo ID is a common-sense measure to block voter fraud. Democrats argued there’s little evidence of such fraud in Minnesota, and that requiring government-issued photo IDs would discourage some people from voting, particularly minority and elderly voters who don’t have them.
“The petition is not about whether the amendment should or should not be adopted,” Pentelovitch said. “The petition is about whether or not the ballot question … fairly and non-fraudulently states what the constitutional amendment they’re being asked to vote on is about.”
Minnesota Majority, a conservative group that’s backing the photo ID amendment, issued a statement predicting the petition will fail. The group’s president, Jeff Davis, noted that it names as defendant Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a vocal opponent of photo ID. He questioned whether Ritchie, a Democrat, would properly defend the case and said his group or pro-amendment legislators would likely seek to intervene.
A similar photo ID amendment failed to make it onto this year’s ballot in Missouri. Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said the plaintiffs hope that case provides the Supreme Court with a road map for deciding the Minnesota case. The Missouri Legislature approved the amendment but a judge rejected the ballot language, and lawmakers failed to rewrite the summary before adjourning earlier this month.
But Guy-Uriel Charles, an election law expert at the University of Minnesota Law School, said there’s a “strong likelihood” the Supreme Court won’t find the language misleading. He said the groups are in effect saying the ballot language should cover every possible detail of the amendment itself.
“You obviously never know what’s going to happen but it strikes me that this is closer to a Hail Mary than a strong play,” Charles said. “They’re really picking close to the edges of the language on the ballot instead of a core deficiency with the language on the ballot.”
The plaintiffs hope the Supreme Court will promptly schedule oral arguments so the justices can decide the challenge before the secretary of state’s office needs to tell local election officials what to put on their ballots, which typically happens in August, Pentelovitch said.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)