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Lawyers for House and Senate defend Photo ID amendment language

Posted by: Jim Ragsdale under Minnesota legislature Updated: June 27, 2012 - 3:32 PM

The details of proposed constitutional amendments are rarely included in the ballot question voters see, and the photo ID amendment should be no exception to that rule, lawyers for the Legislature have argued.

In defending the aballot question asking if voters should be required to show a photo ID, lawyers for the House and Senate told the state Supreme Court that the Legislature "adhered to long-standing tradition by generally describing the proposed amendment" in the case of photo ID and related election changes.

"There is no requirement that the Minnesota Legislature provides voters with a 'CliffsNotes' summary of the proposed amendment in the ballot questions," the lawyers wrote in their brief.

"Indeed, of the 213 proposed ballot questions in Minnesota's history, at least 42 of the questions have contained either no suggestion as to the nature of the amendment, or such limited detail that one would not know what changes the proposed amendment would make by simply viewing the ballot question," argued the lawyers, Robert Weinstine, Thomas Boyd and Kristopher Lee.

The firm was hired by the Republican-controlled Legislature to defend a proposed constitutional amendment the Legislature passed this year, which is to be decided by voters in November.  League of Women Voters-Minnesota and other groups asked the Supreme Court to remove the question from the ballot because it does not fairly and accurately describe the proposed constitutional changes.

When the Legislature wants to amend the state constitution, it writes the new constitutional language as well as a ballot question to be submitted to voters. The new constitutional language does not appear on the ballot -- only the ballot question does.

In this case, the ballot question states: "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?"

The language voters will not see requires that the ID be a "valid government issued photographic identification," a more limited subset of photo IDs; provides for a new system of two-step "provisional" voting for those without IDs; and makes changes to voter registration that may limit the popular practice of registering and voting on Election Day.

The lawsuit claims the ballot question leaves voters in the dark about the real changes being proposed, and should be removed from the ballot. The Supreme Court has received written briefs and will hear oral arguments on July 17.

In their brief, the Legislature's lawyers said the House and Senate have "sole and exclusive authority" to write ballot questions and are not required to "select a ballot question that 'is the best and fairest that could have been framed by a trained lawyer.' " 

Ballot questions in the past were far more cryptic -- sometimes only mentioning the number of the amendment to be changed -- and that voters should be encouraged "to actually read and analyze the proposed amendments themselves," the brief states.

The 2008 Legacy amendment for natural resources and arts funding, for example, was far more complicated than the ballot question voters saw on the ballot, the lawyers wrote. Under the League of Women Voters' argument, that ballot question should have been found to be "fundamentally unfair and misleading," the lawyers said. They added that the 2008 language was "entirely consistent" with past practice and the state Constitution.

 

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