Dispute over military voting heats up Minn.'s photo ID campaign

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE
  • Star Tribune
  • October 25, 2012 - 6:25 AM

The gap between the general language of a proposed photo ID constitutional amendment and the specifics that must be written in the future created a stir Wednesday over military voting.

The coalition leading the charge against the amendment has unveiled a television ad featuring war footage and Iraq war veteran Alex Erickson, a photo ID opponent. In the ad he says that under the amendment, "military IDs aren't valid IDs," and the amendment "takes away a basic freedom from people who gave a whole lot."

The group supporting the amendment as a way of ensuring the integrity of elections says the ad is false and violates the state's campaign practices law. "The entire ad is a lie, designed to mislead voters," said Dan McGrath, head of McGrath asked an administrative law judge to sanction the anti-ID organization, Our Vote Our Future, and warned television stations not to run the ad.

But Our Vote Our Future says it's not backing down.

"Our facts are solid on this," responded Greta Bergstrom, an Our Vote Our Future spokeswoman. A statement by the organization said that in two separate photo ID bills passed by the GOP-controlled Minnesota Legislature, military IDs were not specified as a valid ID. This includes a law passed in 2011 and vetoed by Dayton and the proposed constitutional amendment passed this year and put on the ballot.

Our Vote Our Future communications director Eric Fought noted in a statement that "other states that passed this requirement -- including Alabama, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- saw fit to safeguard the rights of active-duty military." He added that amendment supporters "are asking Minnesotans to trust them -- pass this amendment with no specifics, and we'll fill in the blanks later.'

The dispute over what the amendment will mean, coming less than two weeks before voters decide the issue Nov. 6, is a familiar one in the campaign. Many debates in the media and on the campaign trail have centered on the possible effects of the amendment, particularly since it will require enabling legislation from the 2013 Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

For that reason, the effects on military voting, absentee voting, same-day registration and mail-in voting are not fully known, leaving plenty of room for argument.

In the case of whether military IDs remain acceptable, the amendment is silent. It requires all in-person voters to show "government-issued photographic identification," sets up a system of two-step, provisional voting for those without the required IDs, and standardizes eligibility and identity requirements for all voters, whether in person or not. It does not specify which type of ID would pass muster.

McGrath, of the pro-ID organization, said current law and rule provide that military IDs are acceptable, and he said this will not be changed by the amendment.

"We're not going to let them go on the air with a false advertisement designed to influence the vote," he said. In a letter to television stations, McGrath asked the stations not to run the ad, citing the penalties in state law for airing false advertising and saying "your station could also be subject to this statute."

The television ad, released Tuesday, shows scenes of warfare and then has Erickson saying, "This voter restriction amendment may seem like a good idea, but when the Legislature put it on the ballot, they screwed it up." It is in the rotation of ads against the amendment, and a spokesman for Our Vote Our Future said no stations have informed the organization they will not run it.

The two sides, along with legislative sponsors and opponents, have argued throughout the campaign about the effects of the amendment on poor people, minorities and the elderly, often with differing understandings of what the final provisions will be.

In a separate event on Wednesday, foes of the proposed amendment that included St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi appeared with advocates for victims of domestic violence. The group said it fears these women, who may be transient, living temporarily in shelters, without IDs and wary of using their real address, will find it harder to cast ballots under a photo ID system.

Sasha Cotton, of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, said women facing prolonged abuse often lack access to their IDs and depend on the benefit of "vouching" when they are living in shelters. The practice allows shelter employees to "vouch" for the residence of clients so they can vote. Amendment supporters believe vouching is an invitation to fraud, and say the amendment will end the practice of "vouching."

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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