Legislation requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls has ignited a partisan battle at the Capitol this spring, but an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans support the idea, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Eighty percent of respondents said they favor a photo ID requirement, which Republican majorities at the Legislature have made one of their signature goals of the session. Democrats have almost universally opposed it, arguing that it will prevent members of some groups from voting.
That party split was reflected in the poll: A whopping 94 percent of Republicans supported photo ID, compared to 64 percent of Democrats.
Both houses of the Legislature have already passed photo ID legislation, which would also eliminate the current practice of residents vouching for Election Day registrants and create an entirely new system of provisional balloting.
"That way you can prove who the voter is -- that it's actually that person," said Ron Bogstad of Hatfield, Minn., expressing a view apparently held by many Minnesotans. "And it would stop illegal immigrants and unauthorized people that aren't eligible to vote from voting."
Only nine states require photo identification to vote.
Anticipating a veto from Gov. Mark Dayton, who wants any change in election law to have broad bipartisan support, Republicans are moving forward with legislation that would bypass him and put photo ID on the ballot in 2012 as a constitutional amendment.
"I would say [80 percent] is probably as close to certainty as you may hope to get in regards to the passage of a constitutional amendment," said Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who has led the effort for photo ID.
Barrier to voting?
Opponents note that requiring voters to have a valid Minnesota ID with their current address in the precinct will hinder seniors, college students and minorities from voting. The bill offers free voter ID cards to people without a driver's license or other valid ID, but opponents contend they will be difficult for some to obtain.
"It's just putting a barrier in some people's ability to vote, to be part of the citizenry," said Ann Uehling of Ely. Uehling said the requirement will be particularly taxing on elderly Minnesotans who no longer have driver's' licenses.
A variety of groups, including Minnesota AARP, oppose the legislation because they expect it to affect certain voting blocs disproportionately.
Sherri Knuth with the League of Women Voters said that while the issue may poll highly, many people change their minds when they hear the details and implications.
"If you spend five minutes with them explaining what photo ID really means, and how it would impact voters who don't readily have a photo ID available, then they switch their positions," Knuth said.
If Dayton vetoes the requirement and the Legislature passes it as a proposed constitutional amendment, a coalition of groups will launch massive education campaigns to sway voters ahead of the 2012 elections. Knuth expects that will help tamp down support.
Kiffmeyer said all aspects of the issue have already been extensively aired in the media. "And yet the people still say 80 percent? That's really big," she said.
Kiffmeyer wrote Dayton earlier this week noting she amended the bill to reflect his request that election reforms increase the frequency of campaign finance disclosures. But Dayton indicated recently that it likely wasn't enough to garner his signature.
"Any election reform -- so called -- needs to pass with broad bipartisan support," Dayton said last Friday. "So far that proposal has not met that test." In the Legislature, only two Democrats supported the bill.
No state has ever passed photo ID legislation as a constitutional amendment, though it is slated to appear on the ballot in Mississippi and Missouri.
The poll of 806 Minnesotans was conducted last week and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.
Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper