Attendees at the Minnesota GOP convention in May were invited to have their photo taken in the frame of a Voter ID card.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

The case for voter ID: It will be easy to vote, hard to cheat

  • Article by: DAN MCGRATH
  • October 13, 2012 - 4:13 PM

Should photo ID be required to vote? The majority of Minnesotans say yes in every opinion poll ever conducted. Minnesotans no longer trust our antiquated election system. Some 64 percent say voter fraud is a serious problem.

Fraud is everywhere in modern life. Our votes control trillions of public dollars and unfathomable political power. Think no one would be tempted to steal them?

Would you keep your money in a bank that didn't require ID to make withdrawals at the counter?

Showing ID is a part of everyday life. Without ID, you can't buy certain over-the-counter cold medicines or spray paint. You can't drop off leaves for composting, or drop refuse at the dump. You can't even visit a doctor without some form of photo ID under Obamacare.

All of these ID requirements are designed to prevent fraud or other criminal activity. Yet voter ID has been called "racist" by its opponents.

Is the hotel operator, bartender, or airline acting to discriminate by requiring ID?

We all understand the need for photo ID in modern society. It's a trivial matter for the overwhelming majority of people of all ages, races, genders and incomes. Those unfortunate few in desperate circumstances will get a leg up with the voter ID amendment, since the state will provide free IDs. Doubtless, having ID will benefit people in more ways than just voting.

The voter ID amendment accomplishes four things: It requires voters to show government-issued photo ID to vote; requires the state to provide ID at no charge; requires all voters to be treated equally, and allows unprepared voters a second chance to vote with a provisional ballot.

Next, let's examine what it doesn't do and debunk the most common myths.

Myth: Senior citizens, students, minorities and soldiers won't be able to vote.

The voter ID amendment doesn't discriminate. It requires equal treatment of all voters. The agency that issues IDs doesn't discriminate. An ID is made available to all, and the amendment requires it to be provided at no charge. Even people who lack certain vital documents, like a birth certificate, can still get an ID using a one-page application for variance when they apply.

Seniors have ID (if they don't drive, it never expires). It's now required just to see a doctor. Students have ID. You can't take the ACT or SAT to get into college without photo ID. The notion that the particular hue of someone's skin makes them less competent to get free photo ID is ignorant and offensive. Soldiers have ID. They can't be deployed without it. Military ID is government-issued photo ID, meeting the requirements of the amendment.

Myth: Voter ID is too expensive and will raise property taxes.

The voter ID amendment contains only one specified expense: "The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section."

The state -- not local governments. Property taxes are not affected by general-fund expenditures. The opponents of voter ID incorrectly claim that provisional ballots and possible new technology to verify eligibility will dramatically increase the local costs of running elections. They even claim that precincts that vote by mail-in ballots will have to convert to in-person polling places. All of these claims are demonstrably false.

Indiana, a state with a similar voting population to Minnesota, has what's been called the nation's "strictest voter ID law." In the high turnout year of 2008, Indiana had fewer than 4,000 provisional ballots cast. For comparison, Minnesota has just more than 4,000 voting precincts. That means that if Minnesota's experience is similar to Indiana's and the 44 other states that use provisional ballots, we can expect less than one provisional ballot cast per precinct. Provisional ballots are nearly identical in form and process to absentee ballots. How much can that really cost?

Voter ID opponents say that provisional ballots would require 2 additional paid election judges in each precinct -- to babysit less than one provisional ballot for 13 hours?

The possible replacement of our expensive and antiquated paper voter rolls with an electronic pollbook is often cited as a cost driver in the voter ID debate. Opponents point to fiscal notes produced by the secretary of state during the legislative debate of a vetoed voter ID bill from 2011. That bill allowed but did not mandate electronic pollbooks. Paper-based solutions were offered for municipalities that opted not to use them. Besides that, when the secretary of state himself advocated pollbook technology as an alternative to photo ID, he claimed the cost was "next to nothing." If we include a photo ID requirement, somehow, "next to nothing" becomes $40 million, for the same equipment.

The voter ID amendment does not require the use of pollbooks. Regardless of whether the amendment passes, the Legislature may opt to utilize them, or not.

Mail ballot precincts won't be affected by the voter ID amendment. Mail-in ballots are essentially absentee ballots. They'll require an ID number on the signature envelope, and voters might be expected to show ID to the witness who certifies their ballot.

Myth: Election-day registration will be eliminated or radically altered.

Election-day registration will barely change at all for 90 percent of people who use it. The amendment does not envision using provisional ballots for anything other than people who lack ID on election day. The language is quite clear in that regard: "A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law."

It doesn't say anything about giving provisional ballots to election-day registrants or even to voters whose eligibility hasn't been verified. The amendment doesn't contemplate that voters won't be able to be instantly verified as eligible in the polling place on election day.

Opponents of voter ID speculate on possible future legislation. To be sure, our next Legislature can pass any bill it likes, subject to veto by Gov. Mark Dayton. They could mandate that all ballots be printed on Swiss cheese, which would be as likely to be vetoed as any effort to repeal the very popular system of election-day registration.

For some, easy access to ballots is their priority. For others, election integrity is the priority. But it doesn't need to be just one or the other. With the voter ID amendment, we'll have both. It will be easy to vote, but hard to cheat. What other standard should Minnesota accept?

Dan McGrath is executive director of Minnesota Majority and chairman of

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