House Speaker Kurt Zellers found himself in a constitutional bind on Thursday after saying that voting was a privilege, not a right.
The Maple Grove Republican made the comment Wednesday night during a local radio show, "The Late Debate." He recanted his words on Thursday, saying he had misspoken.
The gaffe came amid a discussion of legislation that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. That bill is nearing a vote after months of hearings.
"When you go to even a Burger King or a McDonalds and use your debit card, they'll ask you to see your ID," Zellers said sometime after 11 p.m. "Should we have to do that when we vote, something that is one of the most sacred -- I think it's a privilege, it's not a right. Everybody doesn't get it, because if you go to jail or if you commit some heinous crime your rights are taken away. This is a privilege."
The right to vote is explicitly referenced in several constitutional amendments, in addition to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"I fully understand it's a right we all have," Zellers said on Thursday. "I probably should have said it a little bit better at that late hour at night."
His comments drew a quick rebuke from DFLers, some of whom believe the voter ID legislation will hinder seniors and college students from voting.
"These comments by Speaker Zellers reveal a lack of seriousness about protecting one of our basic constitutional rights," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. "Perhaps this explains why Speaker Zellers is so willing to pass a photo ID requirement that makes voting more difficult for Minnesotans despite our long tradition of civic participation and election integrity."