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Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Voter ID sponsor promises answers to come next year

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE
  • Star Tribune
  • March 2, 2012 - 6:26 AM

As the photo ID constitutional amendment made an emotional passage through another committee Thursday, its Senate sponsor had a simple answer to queries about what will happen to absentee voters, mail-in voters, students voting away from home and provisional voters.

Wait till next year, said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

Before the Senate Finance Committee approved his bill, Hutchinson recited his mantra: If voters approve the photo ID constitutional amendment in November, it will be up to the 2013 Legislature to decide how to implement the requirement that all voters at polling places "present an approved form of government-issued photo identification."

The committee's 9-6 vote showed the issue's strict partisan divide, with every Republican voting "yes" and every DFLer voting "no."

"This is the first time in all the years I've been a state legislator where I have seen an attempt to take away somebody's right to vote,'' said Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who was first elected to the House in 1976.

"I disagree that this is an attempt to take away someone's right to vote," said Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, head of the committee. "This is just an attempt to try to clarify that those who are eligible, are eligible to vote. I don't think that's taking away their right."

"We know many laws are passed with unintended consequences," Cohen said. "That will be the unintended consequence of this legislation."

Questions for Newman focused on possible consequences: for absentee voters who do not vote in person; for people who vote by mail in isolated rural areas; for students, including an estimated 45,000 in St. Paul, who attend private colleges away from the home listed on their driver's licenses; and for those who, under this proposal, would cast a two-step "provisional" vote and have to verify their identity to have the vote counted. Opponents have also asked how this amendment would work for military voters serving out of state.

Newman, a lawyer in his first term in the Senate, responded to most of these questions the same way: The Legislature that convenes in 2013 would have to make these decisions, including what is an acceptable "government-issued" photo ID and how absentee ballots would be handled. If voters approve the amendment, he said, "it will be a directive to future legislators to implement what the voters have decided."

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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