Minnesota's highest court has spoken on the issue of ballot wording for the two proposed constitutional amendments that voters will consider this fall. In a pair of 4-2 decisions, the Supreme Court ruled that voters will consider the photo ID and same-sex marriage amendments through ballot questions whose wording and titles were chosen by the Legislature.
The court's majority missed an opportunity to give voters more information on the amendments, saying it had a "limited role" in such cases. The real losers in all of this are Minnesota's voters, who are left to deal with the results of the state's flawed amendment process.
In one ruling, the court held that DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie overstepped his authority by changing the ballot question titles drafted by the GOP-controlled Legislature. In the other, regarding voter ID, the court rejected the League of Women Voters' argument that the question should be removed from the ballot because it did not fairly describe what the amendment would do.
Justices said the Legislature has the constitutional power to craft a proposed amendment question, including the title that appears on the ballot with it. Ritchie had cited a 1919 state law that says the secretary of state "shall provide an appropriate title.''
The Legislature passed the marriage amendment with the title, "Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman.'' Ritchie opted for: "Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples.'' On voter ID, the Legislature's title is, "Photo identification required for voting." Ritchie selected the title, "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots."
Two dissenting justices, Alan Page and Paul Anderson, said the full text of amendments -- not summary descriptions written by lawmakers -- should be on the ballot.
In his lengthy dissent, Anderson rightly called the Legislature's voter ID ballot question "inaccurate, misleading and deceptive.'' Even the majority of the court acknowledged that "... it may indeed have been wiser for the Legislature to include the entire amendment on the ballot.''
The rulings mean that anti-amendment forces must work even harder to make the case that the amendments are misguided. And citizens must do their homework on both issues in order to cast well-informed votes.
The court's decisions also underscore the need to change Minnesota's constitutional-amendment process (though it would take yet another amendment to do so). The 2013 Legislature should look at improvements.
Most states require supermajority legislative approval to propose constitutional amendments, while Minnesota's Constitution calls for only a simple majority vote. And some states say that proposed constitutional changes must appear on the ballot in two consecutive elections before becoming law, giving citizens more time to discuss the issues.
Minnesota's title controversy makes a strong case for numbering amendments rather than using titles. In addition, the entire text of amendments -- not subjective summaries -- should appear on ballots, letting citizens know exactly what they're voting on.
It's unfortunate that the Minnesota's high court didn't see fit to provide that option for voters this fall.