U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., joined by representatives of student, senior and disabled voters, called on Minnesota Democrats to unify in opposition to a photo ID requirement for voting.
He said that while most Minnesotans carry an approved, government-issued photo ID, "that's not true of everybody. And this democracy has got to work for everybody."
The third-term representative from Minneapolis is circulating a resolution for DFL precinct caucuses Tuesday night that states DFLers "oppose an amendment in the Minnesota Constitution to require an otherwise eligible voter to present a government-issued photo identification as a precondition to casting a vote in a Minnesota election.''
Republicans, who control the Legislature, have introduced photo ID as a constitutional amendment and believe they have the votes to put it on the November general election ballot. If approved by voters -- and polls show strong support -- it would likely go into effect in the 2014 general election.
Republicans say that requiring voters to show a photo ID that lists the voter's current address in the precinct will discourage fraud at the polls and promote confidence in the voting system. They point out that photo IDs are required for even the most mundane transactions and that free IDs can be made available to those who need them.
Opponents like Ellison say there is no proof that there is a problem now that would be solved by photo IDs. They view it as an attempt by Republicans to suppress the voice of elderly, disabled and poor voters who are most likely not to have a current-address ID.
"Everybody does not have an ID,'' Ellison said. "But people who don't have them are as fully American as anyone."
Speaking for disabled Minnesotans at Ellison's Capitol news conference, Mai Thor said people with disabilities are often poor and more likely than others to lack an up-to-date ID. "Our vote would essentially be suppressed," she said. Cory Baird, a student at the University of St. Thomas, said many students will be excluded, particularly those from other states.
John Martin of St. Louis Park, who is active in the DFL's senior caucus, said the photo ID requirement would turn "the right to vote into a privilege.''
Sadik Warfa of Minneapolis, a U.S. citizen who came to the country from his native Somalia, said many eligible immigrants will be scared off by the idea of getting a government-issued ID card to vote. They will be reminded of the "governments back home" they came to the United States to escape. Warfa said immigrants respect the Minnesota voting system. "We have one of the most flexible voting systems in the nation,'' he said.
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042