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The battle over a photo ID requirement that would change Minnesota's voting system shifted into campaign gear Thursday with the formation of a broad coalition of labor, community, seniors and student groups determined to persuade voters to defeat the measure.
"The job of our campaign is to peel back the layers of the voter ID amendment, just like an onion," said Dan McGrath, head of TakeAction Minnesota and spokesman for the organization. "As voters do this, they will realize, this voter amendment stinks."
The Minnesota AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters Minnesota, the Minnesota Farmers Union and AARP were among the dozens of organizations that on Thursday announced a campaign to defeat the proposed photo ID constitutional amendment when it appears on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Admitting that polling shows strong support for a simple ID requirement for voting, they said the key will be pointing out the other changes the amendment would bring.
"A measure that would radically rewrite the rules of Minnesota's first-in-the-nation election system" is how McGrath described it. Changes to Election Day registration and absentee balloting, a new system of "provisional" voting that requires an extra step to have the vote counted and new registration standards for some voters are part of the proposed amendment, but voters rarely hear about them, the group said.
"We need to talk to people face to face," McGrath said. "We recognize the other side has been very sly with how it has presented this issue to date. Our job is to be truth tellers."
'A false dilemma'
The Republican-controlled House and Senate last week passed -- without a single DFL vote -- the proposed constitutional amendment that will be submitted to voters. That follows the lead of GOP legislatures in Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Texas and South Carolina. If approved, the amendment would require a photo ID from voters, set up a new system of provisional balloting, end "vouching" for Election Day registration and require "substantially equivalent" registration standards for all voters. Foes fear that the last requirement could effectively end the popular practice of same-day registration.
Advocates of the amendment deny this. They say same-day registration, absentee balloting, mail-in voting and other current practices will continue, although they do admit that "vouching" would end. They say if the amendment is approved by voters, the 2013 Legislature would have to write enabling legislation that would spell out the specifics, including what types of IDs would be accepted.
The leader of the group supporting the amendment -- also named Dan McGrath -- said he believes 99 percent of voters will notice no difference. While the amendment makes changes to the system, it does so to strengthen it, he said, and it will not end or greatly change the popular system of Election Day registration.
"They're trying to pit a popular feature of our election system against a popular reform to it," he said of opponents. "They're trying to make it look like it's a choice between one or the other, and it's a false dilemma." He heads Minnesota Majority and a coalition formed to support the amendment, protectmyvote.com.
What other groups say
Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said the amendment that would be inserted into the Constitution is much more far-reaching than the question that voters will see on the ballot. "This voter ID amendment is far more than a simple request that you show identification at the polls ... and we do not have the answers about what exactly those impacts would be at this point."
Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said the 300,000-member federation would be "educating our members and the general public as to why this amendment is not only unnecessary, but extremely harmful." Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said many of his members are township officials who worry about the costs of the new system and who believe the current system is working well.
Sydney Jordan, a University of Minnesota student and a board member of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a student-run organization that registered thousands of students in past elections, said it will mobilize students to work against the measure. She said it would put up barriers for students, who move often and usually don't have a current-address ID to show at the polls.
"It's predictable groups with the same predictable statements, no matter which state," responded Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the House sponsor and a former secretary of state. "I believe Minnesotans will see through the shell game, and their common sense will rule and say, 'We support photo ID.'"
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042