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Two state senators say Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is playing politics with the voter ID amendment on the November ballot.
Ritchie has been a vocal critic of the amendment, which would require Minnesotans to show photo identification to vote. But in a complaint filed Thursday with the Office of Administrative Hearings, state Sens. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, and Mike Parry, R-Waseca, accused Ritchie of crossing the line from criticism to political advocacy.
Their 50-page campaign practices complaint claims the secretary of state lied about the cost and effects of the voter ID issue and used the taxpayer-funded resources of his office to try to influence the outcome of the election.
"It is the job and responsibility of the secretary of state to implement election laws passed by the Legislature, irrespective of the secretary of state's personal political views," said Newman, chief author of the complaint. "I don't view Mark Ritchie as being some sort of election cop, whose responsibility is to protect the people of the state of Minnesota from the Legislature's bill."
In response, Ritchie's office issued a brief statement that he does not comment on litigation.
"I continue to work closely with local elections officials to ensure that the 2012 general election is efficient and accurate," Ritchie said in the statement.
Ritchie has made no secret of his opposition to the voter ID amendment, which he said could cost millions, end same-day registration and make absentee voting difficult.
The complaint points to letters he wrote on state letterhead, warning groups like the Gold Star Mothers that troops deployed overseas might be unable to vote if the amendment passes; and taxpayer-funded trips he made around the state that included stops to talk to newspaper editorial boards about the amendment.
Amendment supporters say those claims are all false.
It is unclear how an administrative law judge could rule on which side might be in the right when the voter ID legislation does not yet exist. If the amendment passes, it will be up to next year's Legislature to hammer out details like what sort of government ID will be accepted to vote or how to check the photo ID of someone who's mailing in a ballot from Afghanistan or Lake of the Woods.
Ritchie testified against the amendment when it was before the Legislature and his opposition continued after it passed. In August, the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down his attempt to change the title of the ballot question from "Photo Identification Required for Voting" to "Changes to in-person & absentee voting & voter registration; provisional ballots."
Newman, who sponsored the voter ID legislation, and Parry, who held a hearing on Ritchie's activities earlier this year that Ritchie declined to attend, say they are filing the complaint on their own and not acting on behalf of the Senate or the Republican caucus.
The two did, however, issue their press release on Senate stationery and use Senate staff, computers and printers for the event. They refused to say who was funding their complaint, saying it was between them and their attorney.
Asked why they were filing the complaint now, a month before the election, Parry said he had been tied up with his unsuccessful congressional campaign until mid-August.
But he never forgot Ritchie's snub of his hearing.
"It was arrogant on his part, not showing up, both him and the attorney general," Parry said.
"I mean, we could have solved this. I just kept getting e-mails from the public. What are you going to do? Can you do something? You're the chairman. He falls under your authority. What can you do?"
A spokeswoman for the Office of Administrative Hearings said the complaint should come up for a hearing before the Nov. 6 election. It is one of four potential complaints Parry and Newman say they might file with various campaign finance and regulatory agencies.
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049