For three months, Gov. Mark Dayton was the obstacle blocking Republicans at the State Capitol from passing photo ID legislation into law. How quickly things change.
Lawmakers delved into a bill Friday that would bypass Dayton and put the photo ID proposal on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in 2012. Loud objections from DFL opponents signaled that what was once likely destined for a veto is now becoming much more possible in a form that Dayton can't veto.
Amendments do well at the polls, after all. In the last 30 years, voters in Minnesota have approved 17 out of 18 such ballot measures. But no other state has passed photo ID as a constitutional amendment, though Mississippi will vote on it this November.
Big Lake Republican legislator Mary Kiffmeyer, the bill's House sponsor, said voter ID is a "will of the people issue" that should be on the ballot if it is "short-circuited" by a veto.
"An election day is when the people govern," Kiffmeyer said. "And when they govern on that election day, we don't want any voter being disenfranchised because somebody who was not entitled to a ballot [got] one."
But Secretary of State Mark Ritchie compared the measure to the disenfranchisement of blacks in the original Minnesota Constitution, which prevented blacks at the time from voting. Republicans fought successfully after the Civil War to restore blacks' voting rights in a subsequent amendment.
"When those Democrats disenfranchised African-American men, the support for that Constitution was [still] almost 100 percent. Almost everybody," said Ritchie, a Democrat. "But it didn't make it right."
Opponents say the requirement to present a valid photo ID with a current address will prove particularly onerous for senior citizens, blacks and college students -- possibly preventing some from voting. If the measure passes, the state would begin providing free voter IDs.
But Ritchie said that the amendment would turn "what's now a right in our Constitution -- a right to vote -- into a privilege."
Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, took umbrage when Ritchie remarked that the bill was a Republican-led effort.
"When it comes to the voice of the people and the people step forward and decide, that's the final decision," Quam said. "And I don't see the voice of the people being characterized as partisan."