Republican legislators plan to take their case for a photo ID requirement for voters directly to the voters themselves.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who oversaw Minnesota's voting system as secretary of state from 1999 to 2007, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, have introduced the photo ID concept as a proposed constitutional amendment. It would require all voters to produce an "approved form of photographic identification prior to voting.''
If it passes the Republican-controlled House and Senate, the proposal would go directly onto the November ballot for voters to decide. Unlike bills and budgets, where the governor can use his veto pen, Gov. Mark Dayton has no way of blocking or changing a proposed constitutional amendment approved by the Legislature.
Last May, the DFL governor vetoed a bill with a photo ID requirement for voters. The bill also would have restricted same-day voter registration and created a new category of "provisional ballots" for those whose IDs were questioned. Dayton said the bill was "based on the premise that voter fraud is a significant problem in Minnesota. I do not believe that to be the case.''
Supporters of photo ID say it is needed to ensure that voters are who they say they are.
"I think that the overwhelming majority of the people in Minnesota support this,'' Newman said in introducing the amendment Thursday. "I think it is frankly important from a standpoint of protecting the integrity of our election process."
Kiffmeyer, who sponsored last year's vetoed photo ID bill, said this week that she had considered reintroducing it as a bill this year. But, she said, in light of federal action to block an ID law in South Carolina, she now believes submitting it as a constitutional amendment is necessary.
The Justice Department blocked South Carolina's photo ID law, arguing that it risked disenfranchising some minorities by making it harder for them to vote.
"I think our best recourse would be to take it to the people,'' Kiffmeyer said.
Last year's bill passed on a mostly party-line split. In deciding to opt for a constitutional amendment, Republican supporters note that 80 percent of respondents in a Minnesota poll last year supported the idea.
Opponents worry that photo ID requirements would disenfranchise not only some minorities, but also college students and seniors, who are among the least likely to carry up-to-date photo identification showing their current address in the precinct. DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie opposes the concept.
Carolyn Jackson, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said an amendment vote would allow the majority of Minnesotans to restrict voting access for a small minority. "People who are already marginalized lose their right to vote,'' she said.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said a compromise with Dayton on a statute rather than an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution is still possible.
"We're going to visit with the governor," Senjem said. "Is there a way that photo ID could have worked? If we could do it statutorily, I don't think we've given up on that.''
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042