In any political season it can be difficult sorting fact from fiction, and that’s particularly the case this year with the debate over the constitutional amendment to require voters to show a photo ID before receiving a ballot.
Supporters of the measure suggest the amendment amounts to a relatively minor change, one that’s unlikely to inconvenience voters. Meanwhile, opponents have argued that it has the potential to fundamentally reshape the state’s electoral system, and potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of otherwise legitimate Minnesota voters.
It would be easy, and intellectually lazy, to suggest that the truth is somewhere in between these two positions. In truth, we just don’t know, because so much about this proposal remains undone. Even the most informed voters will have to make up their minds on this ballot measure without all the facts. That’s because many of the potential implications of the measure won’t be known until after the votes are cast.
To me, that’s the biggest concern of all. I don’t like voting on anything without understanding the fallout. And I don’t like it when politicians try to cloak their agendas in misleading or incomplete language, such as will appear on our ballot on Nov. 6.
Here’s the question we’ll all see a little more than ten days from now:
“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?”
Sounds simple enough. Trouble is, there is a lot more to this measure that won’t be included on the ballot— and that was an intentional decision made by the legislators who pushed this initiative.
Left off of the ballot are some pretty significant details and definitions, including wording that threatens to severely complicate or undo the state’s mail-in balloting system and absentee voting, or that establishes a provisional voting system in Minnesota for the first time.
Also missing is any information about exactly how this amendment might be enforced, and how much it all might cost.
Keep in mind that the constitutional amendment provides little more than a broad requirement. If approved, it would be up to the next Legislature to fill in the details through enabling legislation. That’s where we’ll get to the fights about what kind of photo ID will be considered acceptable, how absentee or mail-in voters will meet the requirement, and whether the state will pay the cost for voters (particularly the elderly) who need to obtain documents, like birth certificates, in order to qualify for their supposedly free state identification card.
These aren’t minor issues. Take the question of mail-in or absentee voting, for example. While the ballot won’t say so, the legislation authorizing the ballot measure includes a requirement that “all voters be subject to identical eligibility verification standards.”
That means, if some voters are required to show a photo ID, in person, all voters must meet the same requirement, including those voting absentee or by mail.
But how does an absentee voter, who may very well be residing in another state or even overseas, present a photo ID in person to a local election official? Snowbirds should be paying attention to this one if they typically try to vote in Minnesota elections.
And what about residents who live in mail-in precincts, where no local election official exists? There are lots of these precincts in northern St. Louis County. Will these residents have to drive to Virginia or Duluth to present their photo ID with their ballots?
When photo ID advocates, like former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, offer assurances that the photo ID requirement will amount to a minor inconvenience at most, they are making statements that expose a lack of understanding of the practical difficulties this measure is likely to impose. In either case, they are statements that photo ID advocates are in no position to guarantee.
While Kiffmeyer is now a legislator, and may have some input into the final enabling legislation, she can’t guarantee how next year’s Legislature may approach the details of a voter ID law.
Nor can she predict the outcome of the lawsuits that many expect to come if the amendment is approved.
Political allies of the photo ID requirement have a much broader agenda to restrict voting in Minnesota. We got a glimpse of that earlier this year, when groups and individuals closely aligned with the photo ID campaign filed suit in federal court to have Minnesota’s same-day voter registration system declared unconstitutional.
While that suit was properly dismissed by Judge Donovan Frank, these same groups will undoubtedly use the new amendment, if approved by voters, to continue their efforts to further restrict the rights of all Minnesota citizens to vote.
Minnesota voters shouldn’t give them the ammunition. Political parties should focus on winning elections by promoting policies that Minnesota voters support, not by placing impediments to voting in front of those who may not share their beliefs. That’s a slippery slope to a political future that Minnesotans should reject.