The Legislature has primacy on ballot title for voter ID amendment.
In a surprising and a very partisan manner, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has greatly overstepped the authority of his office by unilaterally changing the name of the voter ID question that will be on this year's ballot.
Without the proper power or legal right, Ritchie reconstructed the title approved by the Legislature for the constitutional amendment that is before the citizens of Minnesota in November's election, requiring photo identification for legal voting.
The Minnesota Constitution gives the Legislature exclusive authority to propose constitutional amendments, which then are submitted to voters for approval or disapproval. A state law directs the secretary of state to provide a title for amendment questions that appear on the ballot.
But in this case the Legislature itself gave a title to the ballot question. Because a constitutional authority always trumps a statute, the Legislature's exclusive constitutional power over amendments clearly overrides the mere statutory authority of the secretary of state.
By presuming to veto the Legislature's chosen title and replace it with his own misleading alternative, Ritchie has thrown the Constitution and established case law out the window to serve his political interests. He has chosen to ignore the Legislature's lawmaking authority and circumvent the system of checks and balances to serve special interests and his personal agenda.
The Minnesota Legislature passed the ballot question with the title "Photo Identification Required for Voting." Ritchie, however, has changed the title to "Changes to in-person & absentee voting & voter registration; provisional ballots."
Please note that the title authored by Ritchie says nothing about the requirement for citizens to show photo ID in order to vote, which is of course the purpose of the amendment.
The secretary of state and outside special-interest groups have called the ballot question misleading. The amendment passed by the Legislature is very clear and understandable. Ritchie is clearly trying to mislead citizens with a vague, ambiguous title in a naked attempt to deter Minnesota's electorate from voting for the proposed amendment, a mission that is not part of his duties as secretary of state.
According to several recent polls, Minnesotans overwhelmingly support the voter ID amendment, with 60 to 80 percent support for the provision. Photographic identification for legal, qualified voters is absolutely crucial and an important step toward increased integrity in the election process. Ritchie has misused his position to turn a simple and straightforward ballot question into a partisan dispute.
Throughout the legislative process, which included countless hours of public testimony and vigorous debate, Ritchie used his office, at taxpayer expense, to openly advocate for his personal political stance on this issue, often with outright misleading claims.
Both his words and actions call into question his ability to fairly handle the election process, a core function of his office. It is completely unacceptable for the secretary of the state, the state's chief election judge, to misuse the power of the office as Ritchie has done.
Ritchie's willingness to manipulate the law and disregard the Constitution to serve his interests in partisan political chicanery brings into question his fitness for office.
While there are several avenues that could be explored to determine the depth and degree of his misconduct, for now we will look to the court of public opinion and the judicial branch to stop this errant politician from eviscerating our Constitution by abusing the office to which he was elected.
Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.
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