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Photo ID fight moves to Senate

Posted by: Jim Ragsdale under Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 21, 2012 - 2:31 PM

The Photo ID constitutional amendment fight moved to the Minnesota Senate on Wednesday.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a cordial but pointed discussion on the proposal to put photo ID before the state's voters on the general election ballot in November. The committee moved back the effective date to give local governments more time to work with the new mandate and passed the bill on to the Senate floor.

It passed the committee on a mixed voice vote.The full Senate is expected to debate and vote on the bill on Friday.

The Senate committee acted hours after a marathon, 9-hour-plus House floor debate resulted in a party-line vote to pass the bill. That meeting broke up after 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the Senate sponsor, said the Senate version differs from the House-passed version, which is sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.

If the two versions don't match up, there would need to either be a joint conference committee to work out differences, or a decision by one of the two houses to accept the other house's language. Newman said the Senate is sticking with its language.

The bill would ask voters to decide whether the Minnesota Constitution should be amended "to require that all in-person voters present an approved form of government-issued photographic identification at the time of voting; that those not voting in person provided government-issued proof of identity; that all voters be subject to substantially equivalent eligibility verification before a ballot is cast or counted; and that the state provide at no charge an approved photographic identification to eligible individuals."

Newman said the bill was amended to push the effective date back from June 30, 2013 to December 1, 2013. That means that the first statewide election it would apply to would be November 2014. Newman said that gives local governments "some breathing room."

The House approved its version of the bill at 2:15 a.m. today, following a nine-hour, all-night debate, with all Republicans voting for it, and all DFLers opposing it. Kiffmeyer's bill does not make the distinction between "in person" voters and those voting "not in person," which includes absentee and mail-in voters. Many other provisions, including banning the same-day registration practice known as "vouching" for those without IDs, are similar.

Both bills also set up a new system of "provisional voting." Voters without the proper government ID would cast a provisional ballot at the polling place; it would only be counted if they returned to a government office, within a fixed time period, to provide the approved ID. The decision on how this would work, and how the requirement would apply to absentee and mail-in voters, is left to the 2013 Legislature.

Once both houses in the Republican-controlled Legislature approve the same language, this issue would take the same route as the proposal to ban gay marriage. It would be submitted to voters in November as a proposed amendment to the state constitution. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who opposes both measures, has no authority to block constitutional amendments approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

If voters approve the measure, the 2013 Legislature, which could have a different political composition, would have to write a law Dayton would sign which would spell out the details.

In the Senate committee debate, ID foe Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, repeatedly asked ID supporters if they could cite specific evidence of fraud in recent Minnesota elections as a justification for the requirement. "No I cannot," said Newman, who promised to supply the evidence to Cohen soon.

Supporters said that information was irrelevant and appeared to be backing down from the claim that photo ID is needed to prevent fraud.

 "It's a bogus argument," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. She said the ID requirement was about "modernization" of the voting system. Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said, "We need an electoral process that we can have confidence in."

 

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