The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota launched a drive to defeat a photo ID requirement for voters by offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who can prove a case of "voter impersonation," which the ACLU says is the only type of fraud an ID requirement would prevent.
"There is no voter impersonation fraud in Minnesota, and we are willing to bet on it,'' said a statement from Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU-Minnesota. He stood at a podium at the state Capitol with $1,000 in ACLU money stacked before him and issued the challenge.
His point was serious, and it is this: that the push to require every voter to show a photo ID at the polls would not deter fraud, but it would inconvenience people and possibly keep many eligible voters from casting ballots.
Samuelson said the ACLU prize goes to anyone who produces proof of a legal charge, indictment or conviction for the crime of voter impersonation -- voting in the name of another person -- in Minnesota within the last 10 years. Evidence is to be presented at the ACLU offices, 2300 Myrtle Avenue, Suite 180, St. Paul, MN,., 55114, by 5 p.m. on March 30, 2012. Those seeking further information are encouraged to call Carolyn Jackson, 651-645-4097, ext. 125. Results are to be announced on April 2.
"The bet is that no one has been legally charged, indicted or convicted for voter impersonation in the state of Minnesota between Jan. 1, 2002 and March 30, 2012," Samuelson said.
Samuelson said the photo ID provision "would not prevent the voter fraud that we know exists, and that is felons who are out of jail, but not off parole, who have voted or registered to vote,'' because those people likely have photo IDs. Said Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, who appeared at the news conference, "This is one of those bills that is a solution looking for a problem."
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a photo ID bill last year and sent it to Gov. Dayton, who vetoed it. This year, supporters are planning to pass it as a proposed constitutional amendment, which would avoid Dayton's veto pen and allow voters to decide the issue in the November election.
Supporters say it is a simple measure that would improve the security of the polling place, and ensure that people are who they say they are. A series of liberal and religious groups have held events in opposition, saying it is an attempt to throw up barriers to students, elderly voters and minorities, who would me most likelty to not have current-address IDs.
Photo ID is a partisan issue, with unanimous support from Republicans and very little from DFLers. Samuelson appeared with DFL legislators who oppose the concept, including state Hayden, Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia and Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.
"It strikes me as odd they would want to suppress turnout in rural Minnesota,'' said Anzelc. Many of his constituents vote by absentee or mail-in ballot and could possibly be disenfranchised. "This is not a good idea for rural Minnesotans,'' said Anzelc, calling it a "radical, radical idea.''
Hayden talked about elderly people who have let their drivers' licenses lapse, and some who may have difficulty finding original birth documents. "We know that this is a very un-Minnesotan bill," he said.
Opponents of photo ID said the vote has been subject to major amendments to the U.S. constitution and federal laws to guarantee the right to vote to freed slaves, to women, to African Americans in the Jim Crow South and to those 18 and older. They said the photo ID idea goes in other direction by restricting the electorate.
"This will be the first step backward in the history of the country,'' said Samuelson.
ACLU of Minnesota launched a drive called "Vote No 2012" to mobilize photo ID opponents to try to defeat the proposal if it makes it on the November ballot.
Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, the main lobbying force behind Photo ID, has argued that fraud is an issue in Minnesota elections, showing the need for a photo ID requirement.
"They're really concerned with making sure it stays easy to vote in Minnesota." McGrath said of the ACLU. "On that point, we're in agreement. Where we part ways however, is we also believe it should be hard to cheat.''
McGrath said the ACLU offer focuses on one narrow slice of voter fraud, but the ID requirement would prevent much more than voter impersonation. He said "eligibility verification" at the polls -- checking driver's licenses against state databases -- would stop illegal voting by felons and other forms of fraud, not merely voter impersonation.
And he said that allowances can be made so it does not block people from voting.
"These arguments about disenfranchisement have been made by these kind of organizations over and over again, and when they have to take it to court to prove it, they can't,'' McGrath said.