ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Lawyers for the Minnesota Legislature argue that lawmakers deserve wide latitude to design constitutional ballot questions as they fight an attempt to scuttle a photo ID measure awaiting voters in November, according to new court papers.
In a brief filed Monday with the state Supreme Court, the Legislature’s lawyers said the proposed constitutional amendment to require a valid photo ID for voting was placed on the ballot properly and shouldn’t be removed. The brief urges justices to respect “the very broad and exclusive discretion” of the Legislature to fashion amendments.
On July 17, the high court will hear oral arguments from amendment opponents, who argue that the question is vague and misleading. They say it leaves doubts about how the new requirement would be carried out and how voting rights would be protected if people failed to bring the right ID to the polls.
The ballot language approved in May 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?”
Legislative attorney Thomas Boyd contends such ballot questions aren’t traditionally treated as the sole explanation of the initiative. He wrote in his brief that more than 40 of the 213 amendments put before voters since statehood had such limited detail that reading the question alone wouldn’t even help decipher the topic.
“The Legislature has never intended or expected that the ballot question would be a substitute for encouraging voters to actually read and analyze the proposed amendments for themselves,” Boyd wrote.
Boyd is from a Minneapolis law firm hired at public expense to represent the Legislature’s interests. Republicans in charge of the House and Senate decided to intervene in the lawsuit over the objections of Democrats. The amendment was placed on the fall ballot on party-line votes.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, has declined to take a side in the lawsuit despite being the named defendant and chief elections officer.
Plaintiffs in the case, a coalition of groups opposed to the photo ID concept, have until next Monday to file their written brief.
Ritchie has urged the court to decide the case no later than Aug. 27 so ballots can be designed and printed in enough time for voters to access absentee ballots.
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