Ritchie needs to administer amendment question impartially.
The much-debated voter ID amendment is a potential minefield for Minnesota's top elections official.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's opposition to the proposed changes in election law has been well-known for years. Yet now that the Legislature has put the issue on the ballot for voters, his office must be sure that the referendum is carried out fairly and impartially.
Some supporters of the amendment contend that Ritchie already has failed that test. The Minnesota Majority, a citizen's group, says it is considering filing a complaint against the secretary with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Amendment supporters raise legitimate questions. Ritchie and his staff are the go-to government officials for information on voting practices, and now a major elections change is on a ballot they must administer. Despite the Star Tribune Editorial Board's opposition to the amendment, it is the board's hope that Ritchie's office will strive to remain as neutral as possible between now and the election.
A Republican-controlled Legislature approved putting the voter ID question on the November ballot. The amendment would require citizens to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.
Opponents argue that the requirement could pose problems for senior citizens, students and others who may not have photo IDs. And they believe it would substantially change the state's same-day voter registration policy by introducing provisional ballots.
For his part, Ritchie insists that he's not taking sides as he talks with county, city and township officials about the amendment's potential effects. But that's hard to do given that the secretary previously has been so vocal about his opposition to the changes. For years, including during his campaign for office, he made his position clear. And when the proposal was discussed before the Legislature, he testified against it.
Ritchie maintains that, now that the Legislature has placed voter ID on the ballot, he's not "campaigning'' on the issue and that it's not his job to tell people how to vote. Rather, he says, as the state's chief election official, he is only providing information when asked.
He says the major concern among local government officials is the cost of elections that will include a new system of provisional balloting. The locals, who run and pay for elections, are worried that they will face millions of dollars in additional costs.
Further complicating the issue is a suit that has been filed by the League of Women's Voters and other groups that argues the ballot question is misleading and does not fully describe the changes proposed for the state Constitution. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case next week and will rule before the election.
Should the court rule in the League's favor, the amendment could be changed or even could be dropped from the ballot.
Ritchie, a DFLer, defeated then-incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer, who is now a GOP state legislator and strong supporter of the voter ID amendment. Were Kiffmeyer in Ritchie's job today, we'd give her the same advice: Now that a major election issue is on the ballot, the secretary of state should do everything possible to avoid politicizing the office.