The proposed voter ID constitutional amendment is a solution in search of a problem. Advocates of the amendment argue that Minnesota leads the nation in voter fraud. The reality? Even during the hotly contested and lengthy recount accompanying the 2008 Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman -- with high-priced lawyers and partisan advocates spending millions of dollars to gain any edge -- fraud wasn't found or even credibly claimed.
Yet, Minnesotans are being asked to use our most important governing tool, the state Constitution, to limit the right to vote. At the national level, constitutional amendments are a rare thing -- and for good reason. Our founding fathers did not want the principles of our democratic republic to be easily undone. Beyond the original Bill of Rights, only 17 changes have been made to the U.S. Constitution, and most of them have expanded the rights of citizenship, particularly the right to vote.
In contrast, constitutional changes in Minnesota can be accomplished by a simple majority vote in the Legislature and a mere majority of the electorate. That means that we risk changing our Constitution without broad-based bipartisan support. The voter ID amendment raises concerns among some that partisan interests are driving the change.
Additionally, assuming this change is made, we lock into the Constitution a voting requirement -- a photo ID -- that may soon be outdated. Supporters of the amendment often argue that if photo identification is needed to cash a check, we should at least impose that minimum standard on voting. In fact, when was the last time you even cashed a check? More and more banking is done online. Likewise, technology will change how we vote. If the amendment passes, new and better ways to protect election integrity could be blocked by the state's Constitution.
The bottom line is that there is little evidence to suggest that false identity is jeopardizing the integrity of elections. Certainly, no fraud should be tolerated, but the Legislature, not the Constitution, should be the vehicle for technical changes in election law.
Our recommendation? Vote "no" and send this issue back to the Legislature.
And while they are at it, legislators could take time to address some other shortcomings in our electoral system. Among those would be to assist counties in acquiring and implementing modern and uniform voting machinery, ensuring that across Minnesota we have consistency in our voting process. Redrawing political districts, as is required every 10 years, should be taken out of the hands of partisan politicians and instead handled by a nonpartisan commission. With the increasing role of super PACs and other outside groups, campaign-finance reform also should be a priority.
And, rather than limiting votes, passing ranked-choice voting would make sure that every vote counts. RCV allows voters to cast their ballots for the candidate they favor most, but creates the option for a second-choice ballot. It assures that winning candidates have earned support from a majority of Minnesotans. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have utilized RCV in local races, and the system has worked well. Other cities are now preparing to implement RCV. Legislators should build on these successful demonstrations by expanding RCV to statewide races.
Why RCV? First, a successful democracy is built upon the principle of majority rule. Giving too much power to a minority of voters through plurality elections distorts the will of the electorate. Through RCV, voters select a second choice, providing a broader base of support beyond a political party's narrow constituency.
Second, ours is not a two-party system, and was never intended to be. True, two political parties have been dominant for most of our nation's history. But third (or fourth or fifth) parties have often competed for support and frequently raise issues ignored by the Democrats and Republicans (most recently in Minnesota with the Independence Party). Adopting an RCV process could guarantee a more constructive and meaningful role for third parties in our elections.
Ranked-choice Voting won't fix all that ails our electoral system today. But it is a start, and should be considered along with other ideas. RCV will allow more voices to be heard, fewer votes to be wasted, and elections in which the winning candidate receives broad support from a majority of voters. Isn't that the definition of democracy?
Tom Horner is a public-affairs consultant and was chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn. Tim Penny is president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and is a former Democratic member of Congress. Both are former Independence Party candidates for governor. For more commentaries on the photo ID amendment, go here.