Republican state lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would transform Minnesota's election laws by requiring voters to present photo identification to vote and putting high-tech verification tools in nearly every precinct.
So-called "photo ID" legislation has been tossed around the Legislature in the past with little success, but new Republican majorities could send the bill to the governor's desk.
Voters currently do not need to present identification to vote if they have already registered. The bill would require voters to present a drivers license or other approved photo ID, which would be verified through an electronic system.
"The integrity of our entire election process hinges on two critical issues," said Sen. Warren Limmer, a bill sponsor. "A photo identification...would satisfy and verify that the individual casting the vote is the person that they in fact are claiming to be. And the second is also to verify that the individual is voting in the precinct where they belong.”
Limmer argued that they were responding to citizens who are "suspicious" of Minnesota's elections process, citing the debunked claim that ballots turned up in the trunk of someone's car during the 2008 recount.
"Why is it we have to wait a few days and then find a bundle of ballots in a box in someone’s trunk of their car?" Limmer said. "That certainly has raised suspicion of whether or not we have an effective system of accounting for our ballots in the state of Minnesota."
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, the House sponsor of the bill and a former Secretary of State, said the electronic system would eliminate discrepancies from the 2010 recount showing that sometimes there are more ballots than voters. At the time, election officials attributed that mainly to human error.
Democrats responded that the proposed changes seek to block out voters who typically vote DFL and are overly costly to the state. Rep. Steve Simon said there were 38 cases of voter fraud in the last election cycle -- all attributable to felons voting.
“This is something that’s way out of balance.” Simon said. “It’s basically redesigning our entire election system so that we can get at 38 people at the cost – the considerable cost -- of fencing out thousands of law-abiding Minnesota voters."
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie estimated in a statement that "connecting 5,000 electronic poll books statewide could cost more than $20 million." Ritchie has traditionally not supported photo ID.
Star Tribune intern McKenzie Martin contributed to this report.