Secretary of State Mark Ritchie held a press conference Thursday to argue for an alternative to voter ID: electronic poll books that would display voters’ photos from the state drivers’ license database.

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DFLers push for photo ID alternative

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE
  • Star Tribune
  • March 9, 2012 - 5:50 AM

DFLers attempting to block the photo ID amendment moving through the State Capitol offered a technological alternative on Thursday, hoping that a laptop computer at the polling place can replace an in-the-pocket ID favored by Republicans.

"This is a far better route to go," said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, seeking a bipartisan approach to this volatile issue.

Dayton and DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie want a system that would bring drivers' licenses and state ID pictures from the state Division of Vehicle Services database into each precinct. That would allow most voters to be easily identified, and could be adapted to accept college IDs and to take on-the-spot photos of those who are not in the state system, Ritchie said.

"Our proposal can be in the polling place, this November, almost for free," said Ritchie, who along with Dayton opposes the Republican-backed photo ID proposal. The DFL plan would not depend on voters bringing IDs to the polls, but on the polls having voters' IDs waiting for them.

Republicans say the electronic poll book proposal is a good supplement to the state's election system, but no substitute for a constitutional amendment requiring photo ID.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who is sponsoring the amendment in the House, said that while poll-book technology might help in the future, she will pursue passage of a constitutional amendment. Unlike regular bills, proposed amendments cannot be vetoed by the governor. Dayton vetoed photo ID as a bill last year.

'The province of one party'

Dayton said he, like his predecessor, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, did not want to sign an election bill that only one party supports.

"You shouldn't have a change in election law that is just the province of one party," said Dayton, referring to the Republican-backed photo ID bill. "Obviously, they're likely to change it in a way that would benefit them."

The thicket of election law weighed down the ID proposal Thursday, but did not slow it. The bill passed its first committee hurdle Thursday night on a party-line vote.

Ritchie, DFL legislators and citizens who oppose the bill worry about unintended consequences, including its effects on absentee voters, military voters, mail-in voters in small rural precincts and the popular practice of same-day voter registration.

Ritchie said an ID requirement brings with it a "new election system called provisional voting." These are votes cast by people without approved IDs, and which are counted only if the voter brings in proof of identity within a period to be determined by the 2013 Legislature. Ritchie said the provisional ballot system could delay reporting election results and add new duties to local governments.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, predicted that the imprecise language of the amendment would trigger an "endless array of lawsuits."

"You are doing an admirable job of ruining the election system in Minnesota," Winkler said to Kiffmeyer.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said legislators are "writing in indelible ink" when they amend the state Constitution, and limiting the ability to react to future changes in technology and election procedure.

Kiffmeyer, who was unseated by Ritchie as secretary of state in 2006, argued that the requirement is reasonable at a time when photo identification is needed for the simplest of transactions.

Once the amendment is approved by voters, she said, legislators from both parties could ensure that it is implemented fairly.

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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