Military veterans and a state legislator who is serving in the Minnesota National Guard criticized a proposed photo ID requirement for voting, saying it could make it harder for active-duty servicemen and women to vote.
Alex Erickson of Minneapolis, who served with the Army in Iraq during the historic Iraqi election in January of 2009, said that experience is "something I will never forget." "In America, voting is a right, not a privilege," he said.
"As a veteran, I can tell you first-hand how difficult it is to vote abroad, especially when stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan," Erickson told a Capitol news conference. Of his time in Baghdad, he said, "There's no P.O. Box available and FedEx definitely did not deliver."
The Republican-backed photo ID requirement is moving swiftly through the Capitol as a proposed constitutional amendment, with a hearing scheduled on Thursday. If approved, voters would decide in November whether to impose the requirement, and the 2013 Legislature would decide what type of IDs to require, and other issues relating to military and absentee voting.
Erickson said the lack of specifics about military voting worries him.
"What concerns me most about the photo ID amendment is the lack of answers on how it will impact oversees voting and absentee balloting," Erickson said. "During two committee hearings, legislators have refused to articulate how Minnesota service members would cast their ballots under this new system. They've chosen instead to defer these answers for the next Legislature to figure out."
Erickson was joined at the news conference by former Sgt. Erika Hiller, a Gulf War veteran from St. Paul; Mark Mayer, an Air Force veteran from Colorado Springs, Colo.; and state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who is a member of the Minnesota National Guard.
Lesch said the vagueness of the constitutional amendment concerns him. "It's really a decision to decide later about what we're going to do," he said.
The constitutional amendment bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, is to be heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. The meeting is in Room 15 of the Capitol and begins at 8:30 a.m.
Officials of the anti-photo-ID group TakeAction Minnesota organized the news conference. The group said in a statement that about 3,100 military members living abroad requested absentee ballots in 2010, and about 2,000 votes were returned.