Suppose I had gone to the Minnesota Legislature last year and said, "I have a complicated new program that could massively disrupt voting procedures throughout our entire state. I haven't yet figured out the details, and I have no idea of what it will cost. Maybe $100 million, or so. I have no evidence that it's needed, but I know it is. Just trust me and approve it."
The shouts of "NO!" would be heard everywhere, and properly so. That's not the way we do things in Minnesota. We don't spend a huge amount of money on an undefined program trying to fix a problem that we don't know even exists.
That, however, is what the majority in the Legislature wants us to do, by approving its misnamed "voter ID" constitutional amendment. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing, and it could cause serious damage to legal voting throughout Minnesota.
Senior citizens who don't have valid photo IDs would not be allowed to vote at the polling locations they have used for years. One nursing home administrator was asked how many of his 30 residents had a valid picture ID. His answer: "One."
Obtaining a new Minnesota ID currently requires two pieces of notarized documentation -- for instance, a birth certificate or a current passport. Many elderly people, especially those whose families immigrated here, do not possess or have ready access to such documents. The procedures for obtaining certified copies, as current law requires, are confusing and time-consuming.
The amendment could also deny members of our Armed Forces their constitutional right to vote. They, too, would be required to produce current photo IDs before their votes would be counted. Minnesotan Todd E. Pierce, an Army major with 37 years of service, said recently on Minnesota Public Radio: "The proposed new constitutional amendment would turn the clock back to those days where military voters would need to find someone to vouch for their identity by signing on their ballot as a witness or notary." Unfortunately, as the amendment is worded, even confirmation by a fellow soldier might not be enough.
The amendment would cause the same serious disruptions of mail-in balloting, which is now used in the rural areas of nearly half of Minnesota counties. Those areas no longer have polling places; voting by mail is citizens' only option. Who would determine whether voters living miles away have the IDs necessary to vote?
Furthermore, no one knows what this amendment would cost. Estimates have run as high as $100 million. Much of that financial burden would fall on our counties, who are responsible for conducting elections. Those additional costs would require higher property taxes or further cuts in essential services, like road repairs and snowplowing.
With our state already facing a $1.3 billion deficit in the next biennium, it makes no sense to force unknown amounts of new spending on government.
What's even more senseless is that all of these disruptions and extra costs are unnecessary. Voting in Minnesota is carefully safeguarded. The few claims of voter fraud in every election are investigated and prosecuted by county attorneys.
In two recent statewide recounts, election officials and opposing campaigns reviewed every ballot and found that voter fraud, supposedly the reason for this amendment, is virtually nonexistent.
After the 2008 Senate election recount, Fritz Knaak, a former state senator and the lead Republican recount attorney, said, "We were looking for fraud, but we did not see it."
Our voting system can always be improved, and we should continue to look for sensible, cost-effective ways to make certain that all eligible voters can vote and that only eligible voters are voting. This amendment, however, would do nothing to improve that system -- and much to make it worse.
I urge my fellow Minnesotans to vote "no" on both constitutional amendments on Tuesday. Please send this amendment back to legislators. Tell them to work together cooperatively and produce bipartisan legislation that is in the best interests of all Minnesotans. That is legislation I will sign.