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Margaret Scott, NewsArt

Trash talk abounds on voter ID

  • Article by: DAN MCGRATH
  • May 7, 2011 - 8:57 PM

A lot of commentators have been opining on the voter ID proposals taken up in the Legislature this year. Unfortunately, many of them (Star Tribune editors included) seem to have neglected to read the bills, or to understand how they work before sounding off.

Minnesotans may soon be asked whether to amend the state Constitution to require voters to present ID. It's important that the public be well-informed about the proposal. Hyperbole and misinformation do a disservice to the electorate.

There are three components to verifying a voter's eligibility: Identity, residence and eligibility. Voters should be expected to demonstrate that they are who they say they are, that they live where they say they live and that they are eligible.

Voting is a right in our constitutional republic, but it's a qualified right. A voter must be at least 18, must be a citizen, must be a resident of the state and precinct, must be mentally competent and must not be a convicted felon still under sentence.

Finally, each voter is entitled to only one vote. The central question in the debate about "21st Century Voter ID" proposals is whether we should take a voter's word for all of this or verify that the voter meets all the qualifications as described in the state's Constitution and statutes.

The voter ID bill (SF509) and the proposed constitutional amendment (HF1597) both ensure that voters meet all qualifications.

A recent Star Tribune editorial ("One citizen, one vote -- guaranteed," May 1) misinforms readers by stating the voter ID proposals "would have no impact on the only kind of illegal voting seen with any frequency in Minnesota -- voting by felons on probation whose civil rights have yet to be restored. Nothing revealed on their driver's licenses would deny them a ballot."

SF509 ensures that a voter's eligibility is confirmed by cross-referencing Voter ID data with state databases, including lists of convicted felons and known noncitizens. Current law requires these checks for people who register in advance of an election but waives them for Election Day registrants.

The proposed improvement will enable the same verification checks for all voters, regardless of when they register.

Ineligible persons thus will be prevented from voting to begin with, instead of trying to track and prosecute them after their ballots have been counted (See SF509, Article 2, Section 12). The constitutional amendment accomplishes the same result by requiring all voters to be verified by the same standards.

Polls show that 80 percent of Minnesotans support Voter ID, and a recent Tarrance Group poll found that 87 percent of Minnesotans think all voters should be subject to identical verification standards.

The central principle of election law should be to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat. SF509 goes to great lengths to ensure that everyone who desires to vote can do so, while securing our election system against abuse.

A common meme employed by opponents of Voter ID is that it will disenfranchise voters who may not have current identification. Setting aside the fact that all of the Voter ID proposals provide free Voter ID cards, our current laws disenfranchise some voters.

A person who has just moved and doesn't yet have a utility bill in their name at their new address, and who hasn't yet met any neighbors who they could ask to vouch for them, will be turned away from the polls.

Under the proposed new law, voters in these circumstances, who would otherwise be denied a ballot, will be given a second chance to vote via a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots are maligned by the likes of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, but their purpose is to safeguard against anyone being turned away without a chance to vote. They expand the voting franchise.

Forty-four other states use provisional ballots and federal law requires them except in unusual cases, like North Dakota, which doesn't require voter registration, or Minnesota, which combines Election Day registration with vouching.

In the months to come, Minnesotans will be exposed to accurate information, misinformation and a variety of opinions. The best thing a person seeking information about the Voter ID bills can do is to read the bills.

The Legislature makes it easy to read bills online and track their progress and changes through the various committees. To get to the bottom of the Voter ID proposals, simply look up SF509 and HF1597 at www.leg.state.mn.us.

Dan McGrath is the executive director of Minnesota Majority.

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