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Showing photo identification is a no-brainer for the vast majority of Minnesotans who have the magic card in their wallets and purses and produce it regularly to conduct even the most routine transactions.
But a strict ID requirement, such as is being proposed in a constitutional amendment this November, can be a significant barrier for anyone who lives off the ID grid. According to the Minnesota secretary of state's office, that number could run as high as 84,000.
In addition to the 2.7 percent of registered voters who appear to lack a state-issued ID, the office estimates that another 4 percent -- 131,000 -- hold IDs that do not show their current voting address.
The amendment would require all voters to show government-approved photo IDs before casting their ballots.
Those affected could be people like Evelyn Collier, 79, and her fellow residents at the Camden Care Center nursing home in north Minneapolis, many of whom had long since let their state IDs lapse. When they needed travel documents for a Caribbean cruise two years ago, the staff spent months trying to round up birth and marriage certificates and other documents needed for a photo ID.
Most of the documents eventually came in, but Collier, an African-American woman born on a farm in Mississippi in 1932, missed the trip for lack of an official birth certificate.
Or 63-year-old Greg Jackson -- that is the name he has used as long as he can remember -- who arrived in Minnesota seven years ago with an Illinois ID and failing eyesight. When he sent home for his birth certificate, he was surprised to learn that his legal name was different from the name he had always used, and which was on his Illinois ID.
Several document requests, assistance by volunteers from Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly, and a $320 legal name change followed before Jackson obtained his Minnesota ID.
"If it was that hard for me to get my ID, with my impediments, what about all the impediments other people have?" said Jackson, of St. Paul.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the amendment sponsor, said the government would offer free IDs, and that the availability of waivers for those without underlying documents and adaptations of current law by the Legislature could address problems without disenfranchising anyone. The general language of the amendment, if it passes, would be fleshed out by the 2013 Legislature.
But the uncertainty worries advocates for the elderly and poor, as well as students who try to get their fellow students to go to the polls. They fear that the no-brainer for the many will become a barrier for the few -- just enough of a hurdle to keep a significant subset of eligible people home.
Camden Care boasts cruise-line posters in the hallway next to a sign that says, "Together we make a family." Administrator Robert Letich said 24 residents without IDs signed up for a cruise that would take place in November 2010. Staff members began sending away for the underlying documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, in February, and did not get the final IDs until shortly before the trip.
In addition to Collier's case, another resident needed a marriage certificate from Texas. "She knew she was married on a Saturday after high school graduation -- that was it," Letich said. A barrage of requests struck gold, and the ID followed. Staffers could not find one marriage certificate for another resident, and she had to stay home.
The situation convinced Letich that the ID requirement will be serious. "It was a six-month process to get an ID," he said. "So if you want to vote, you better start planning."
As is the case in many care facilities, election judges bring the polling place to the residents, and staffers can "vouch" for their residence in the building. But the amendment also would abolish vouching. That would further limit voting at Camden Care, Letich said.
"All these people would be disenfranchised from the election," he said. "And that generation takes it really seriously. They want to vote."
Michele Kimball, director of AARP Minnesota, said Mississippi -- the only state that has written photo ID into its state constitution -- made an exemption for nursing homes for this very reason. "It's just a nightmare scenario," she said.
Those in motion
Low-income people who change residences frequently and those who experience homelessness also would be a problem population under a strict ID requirement.
Colleen O'Connor Toberman, of Our Savior's Housing, a shelter and housing program in Minneapolis, said 75 percent of those entering the shelter are registered voters.
Before each election, she said, the shelter sends local elections officials a list of staffers who can vouch for their residents at the polls, allowing them to register and vote. The staffer who is vouching signs an oath stating that the resident resides at the facility.
If vouching disappears and an ID requirement replaces it, Toberman said she fears for the voting rights of low-income people without fixed addresses. "They're often being overlooked," she said. "Voting is the only way they can be heard."
Kiffmeyer said that even homeless people can have an address assigned by the county or city and be issued an ID.
The student vote
Twin Cities students have similar concerns. Will private-college IDs be allowed under a "government-issued" ID requirement? How can out-of-state students attending Minnesota colleges vote without going home?
"We don't know how bad this will be for students," said Emma Wright, board chair of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which conducts registration drives among students. She noted that some states with statutory voter ID requirements have refused to recognize student IDs at the polls. Even having an "out" by using a fee statement with the student's name on it -- if that is allowed -- adds another step that could keep people home.
Ryan Lyk, state chairman of Minnesota College Republicans, said the fee-statement provision could work in tandem with a photo ID, as was proposed at the Legislature last year. "Nobody wants anyone to not be able to vote," he said. But that provision is not part of the amendment.
'In limbo' without ID
Most ID-holders think of them as good things, totems of their identity and keys to life in a civilized society. Greg Jackson is among them.
"If you don't have an ID, there's not much you can do," he said. "I was in limbo." It took sustained help from advocates to straighten out his two-name status.
"I changed my name -- into my name," is how he puts it.
Jackson watched on television last week as former President Bill Clinton criticized ID laws at the Democratic National Convention. "He mentioned suppression laws, taking votes away from the disabled and elderly," Jackson said. "I thought that was significant."
Jackson has not voted in his seven years in Minnesota but now is registered and eager.
"A couple of weeks ago, I was so happy, they sent me a thing, where I'm going to vote at, my polling place," he said.
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042
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