Photo ID amendment sponsor Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer said Tuesday night that Minnesota's election system is "wide open for fraud" and "ripe for a major problem" unless voters take action next week by approving her proposed changes in the way Minnesotans vote.

ID opponent Rep. Steve Simon responded that Kiffmeyer herself had praised the system as fair and honest when she ran it as secretary of state, but said her photo ID fix will end Election Day registration and cause a "radical makeover of our election system."

The two legislators, sparring partners in the two-year-long debate over photo ID and related election-law changes, made their pitches to a statewide radio audience at a debate sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio. Both upped the ante, Kiffmeyer by emphasizing her claims of voting irregularities and Simon by predicting a legal and constitutional fiasco if the amendment is approved.

"You protect the honest voters from the dishonest," said Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who oversaw the state's election system when she was secretary of state from 1999 to 2007.

"This would make us the most restrictive state in the country," responded Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, a lawyer and assistant House minority leader who has led the argument against photo ID.

Doug Chapin, an elections authority at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs who participated in the debate as a nonpartisan expert, said the photo ID debate is a "faith-based argument between people on one side who believe fraud is rampant and people on the other side who believe disenfranchisement is inevitable."

On Tuesday, voters will be asked if the state Constitution should be amended "to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote" and to require the state to provide free IDs.

They will not see the full text of the amendment, which calls for a "valid government-issued" photo ID, creates a new system of two-step, provisional voting for those who go to the polls without the required ID, ends the process of "vouching" for the residence of those registering on Election Day, and standardizes eligibility and identity verification requirements for all voters.

Filling in details

If it is passed, it would be up to the 2013 Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to agree on a law that would spell out the details. One key element: defining what it means that all voters "must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification" before being allowed to vote.

Kiffmeyer said the provision would allow voters to cast a ballot even though the address on their driver's license did not show their current residence, and would allow the state to continue to offer same-day registration, mail-in voting and military voting.

But Simon said if voters registering at the polls are required to meet the "substantially equivalent" test, there can be no same-day registration.

"Many supporters see this as a back-door way ... to get rid of same-day voter registration," he said.

Kiffmeyer said she is concerned about voters who are preregistered and who are not asked for an ID -- a number she guessed would be near 2.8 million on Tuesday.

"How do you know you don't have voter impersonators ... without a photo ID?" Kiffmeyer said.

Simon said there is "not one, not a single case" of one voter impersonating another, and that any voter whose name had already been claimed by an impostor would surely call for a full investigation. Yet it never occurs, Simon said.

Asked what IDs would be acceptable once the Legislature acts, Kiffmeyer said the list would include driver's licenses, passports, military IDs and tribal IDs.

"Absolutely they will be accepted as they are in other states," she said.

But Simon said any attempt to use IDs without current addresses could result in successful lawsuits based on the strict language of the amendment.

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042