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Saying that election reform measures should reflect a broad bipartisan consensus, Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday slapped down a GOP bill that would have required voters to present a photo ID at the polls.
In addition to new ID requirements, the bill eliminated vouching as a method of Election Day registration and created an entirely new system of provisional balloting for voters without IDs.
Republicans had trumpeted the legislation as a "common-sense" reform to improve the integrity of Minnesota's election system, while DFLers said it would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Only two DFLers at the Legislature voted for the bill.
In his veto letter, Dayton said Minnesota's election system is already "the best in the nation."
"The push to require photo identification in order to vote has been based on the premise that voter fraud is a significant problem in Minnesota," Dayton wrote. "I do not believe that to be the case."
The veto may not stop Republicans from passing photo ID requirements into law. GOP lawmakers have already launched a separate constitutional amendment proposal that would bypass Dayton and let voters decide in the 2012 election.
Perhaps with that effort in mind, Dayton also Thursday issued an executive order creating a task force to study methods of modernizing Minnesota's elections. The task force will present its recommendations more than two months after the 2012 election.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said she was disappointed Dayton vetoed a bill that would "dramatically improve the public confidence in the integrity of Minnesota's election system." Eleven states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification, although some have yet to take effect.
A recent Star Tribune poll found 80 percent of Minnesotans support a photo ID requirement. Opposing groups like the League of Women Voters say public support will drop as people learn about the potential disenfranchisement of seniors, college students and minorities -- the people least likely to have a Minnesota photo ID listing their current address in the precinct.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said she wants to send Dayton one more photo ID bill next year before advancing the amendment plan.
"If the governor just absolutely refuses to listen to the will of the people, then we'll go to a constitutional amendment," Kiffmeyer said. "But I'll just give him one more chance to sign a bill."
Under the bill vetoed on Thursday, Minnesota would have distributed free voter identification cards to people without valid IDs if they prove their citizenship and provide a "photographic identity document." People lacking valid IDs on Election Day would have cast a provisional ballot that would not be counted unless they supplied the required items within seven days.
In his veto, Dayton said the bill imposes an "unfunded mandate" on local governments, citing a fiscal analysis showing a $23 million cost. Much of that assumes that some cities or counties would purchase "electronic poll books" to effectively implement the bill. Those poll books are not required in the bill, however.
Dayton added that felons voting while on probation constitute the sparse evidence of voter fraud in Minnesota. County attorneys have convicted about 100 people for voting or registering illegally in the 2008 election. Nearly all of them were felons who could not legally vote.
Felon voting "will not be addressed by a photo identification requirement," Dayton wrote in his veto message. The bill does include a provision requiring election judges to consult a list of ineligible voters when people register on Election Day. The governor's executive order instructs state officials to tighten safeguards against felons voting illegally.
Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper