Voter ID: Like pulling on a thread

  • Article by: AMY BERGQUIST
  • Updated: October 25, 2012 - 6:45 PM

Proponents can't explain away the trouble it would cause.

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Counterpoint

Dan McGrath and other proponents of the proposed amendment to change voting procedures in Minnesota label critics' arguments as "myths" ("The opposition is based on myths," Oct. 14.) They dismiss skeptics, explaining away concerns by insisting that any adverse consequences "wouldn't be required" under the amendment. Like attempts to slay the many-headed Hydra, every explanation generates even more unintended negative consequences.

When legislators expressed concern about college students voting, amendment sponsor Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer insisted that students could use out-of-state IDs. She added that passports, tribal IDs and military IDs would all qualify as "government-issued," and that people who've moved could use their old IDs and a utility bill. Sounds great!

But these accommodations open a Pandora's box of logistical challenges. Local governments would need to train election judges -- at $10 per hour -- how to determine the validity of IDs from 50 states and the District of Columbia, plus passports, military IDs and IDs from all 565 federally recognized tribes.

And not just facial recognition and spotting fake IDs. Because the amendment requires "valid" ID, Minnesota's "bouncer boot camp" would have to include an epic multijurisdictional legal seminar about what makes an ID valid. (Indiana's law, which proponents hold as an example, does not require "valid" ID.) Minnesota statutes define a valid driver's license as one that is "not expired, suspended, revoked, or canceled," and require people to get a new license within 30 days of moving. Each jurisdiction, however, has different ID "validity" rules.

Fast-forward to election day. Will election judges interrogate each voter about the validity of an ID? Or will they consult each issuing entity?

What about citizens not voting in person? The amendment requires that everyone be subject to "substantially equivalent identity ... verification." Amendment supporters assert that absentee and mail-in voting will remain essentially unchanged; voters could simply write an ID number on the ballot envelope. How could that possibly be substantially equivalent to the scrutiny of a trained election judge?

Supporters also shrug off concerns about election-day registration. In response to the "substantially equivalent ... eligibility verification" requirement, McGrath deftly employs a double-negative: "The amendment doesn't contemplate that voters won't be able to be instantly verified as eligible in the polling place on election day." Instant verification -- sounds great!

But the Achilles' heel is logistics. When people register in advance, the secretary of state verifies eligibility by navigating a labyrinth of eight electronic databases, all updated daily: the Social Security Administration, the National Death Registry, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Department of Public Safety, Drivers and Vehicle Services, the U.S. Postal Services Change of Address database, the Department of Corrections and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In presidential election years, approximately 500,000 Minnesotans register on Election Day. For those voters, the state currently consults those eight databases after the election; registrants who lie about eligibility face steep penalties.

So when those 500,000 voters show up at the polls, election judges would need to consult those eight databases to verify eligibility -- "instantly." McGrath's "paper-based solution" is a hard-copy "challenge list" compilation of all ineligible voters in the eight federal and statewide databases. But those databases are electronic for a reason -- imagine how many reams of paper it would take to print out just one. Pity the poor poll worker facing the Herculean task of poring over each list to search for the name of every same-day registrant, and pity the "John Smiths" sharing their names with many deceased and ineligible voters.

McGrath's high-tech solution follows the siren song of "electronic pollbooks." Trouble is, there's no single online database of ineligible voters. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's low-cost pollbook proposal would verify identity, not eligibility, and it wouldn't require real-time access to a centralized database. Developing and maintaining a secure, ever-changing online eligible-voter database would be costly and time-consuming.

Minnesotans should carefully examine this superficially attractive amendment before opening the gates to our state Constitution. If it passes, we'll soon face the mayhem lurking within this modern-day Trojan horse.

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Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney for the Advocates for Human Rights.

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