The Republican-controlled Legislature moved a step closer early Wednesday to putting a photo ID measure on the November ballot, with the House approving the proposal on a 72-62 vote.

The vote came after more than 9 hours of divisive and partisan debate that ended at 2:14 a.m.

The Senate is expected to hear the same bill in a final committee Wednesday and could hold a floor vote as early as Friday. If the Senate passes the same measure, the proposed amendment would go before voters on the November ballot.

The amendment would require voters to show a valid, government-issued identification card at the polls.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who opposes the use of photo ID for voters in part because it has attracted only Republican support, has no authority to veto a proposed constitutional amendment.

"You need an ID to write a check, cash a check, use a credit card, get a prescription, get a fishing and hunting license, to get married," said Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, in defending the proposal during the House floor debate. "This is a no-brainer. We should have an identification to vote -- a very simple and important right that we all hold dear."

Countered Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park: "This is a really big deal. For the first time in Minnesota history, we are putting policy preferences into the constitution, on a whim, because one party can -- because they have the votes."

With Republicans holding a 72-62 majority in the House, passage seemed certain from the start of the night-long march to a final vote.

In a test vote, Simon's amendment -- which would have allowed for electronic poll-book technology rather than depending on photographs -- failed by a 74-59 vote. A second DFL amendment, to clarify the type of IDs that would be required, failed by a 69-65 vote, nearly five hours into the evening debate.

Simon, the assistant minority leader in the House, said he believes that if voters get the issue in November, it is likely to pass.

"I'm sure it would pass," said Simon, who opposes the amendment. "I can read an opinion poll. ... There are lots of things that are popular ... it doesn't mean they ought to go into the Constitution."

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, a former secretary of state. Supporters cited no evidence of voter fraud, but Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, said showing an ID will ensure that "you are who you say you are."

Opponents focused on the language of the constitutional amendment and said it could lead to disenfranchisement of eligible voters who can't get "government-approved" identification as required.

As the bill has moved through both houses, support has been split strictly along party lines. In every committee, every Republican has voted for it, while every DFLer has opposed it.

Unintended consequences

The floor debate turned on several key points: whether there is evidence either of significant voter fraud or of disenfranchisement in states with ID laws; whether the required ID has to be issued by the government; and what unintended consequences the ID change would have on other elements of the voting system, such as same-day registration.

Kiffmeyer said the proposal would allow same-day registration but would prohibit "vouching," in which registered voters "vouch" for the residence of someone without identification. But Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said address-verification requirements mean all same-day registrations -- up to 500,000 in some elections -- would have to be case as "provisional" votes, which are not counted until the ID is verified.

Republican supporters said many voters fear that fraud occurs and want further assurance. "Why not ensure it?" Peppin said. "Make sure all people in Minnesota know, their vote means something."

DFL opponents could not point to specific cases of disenfranchisement in states with photo ID, but said they worried about voters who have to scramble to get the documents needed for a government ID.

DFLers wanted Kiffmeyer to drop the requirement for a "government-issued" ID in favor of a "government-approved" ID, which would give the state more flexibility, but she declined.

Rep. Doug Wardlow, R-Eagan, said of the measure: "It protects the integrity and reliability of the electoral system, and it gives meaning to the right to vote." Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, added: "Unless we do something about our election system, people are not going to have confidence in the election process."

Wardlow added, "You're not born with the innate right to vote," and argued that preventing illegal voting is a way of improving the system. "The current system ... is open and prone and ripe for abuse," Wardlow said.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Brainerd, said the change is disrespectful to veterans, especially homeless veterans, who have fought for the right to vote and may face barriers to the polling place. "Before you cast your ballot, you have to have the stamp of approval from your government," he said of the proposal.

Strict photo ID

Minnesota is among more than 20 states that require no identification for registered voters who come to the polls. Roughly the same number of states require some ID, but not necessarily a photo. GOP-controlled legislatures across the country have been pushing to require a government-issued photo ID for all voters, a plan known by the National Conference of State Legislatures as "strict" photo ID. Minnesota's proposal falls into the "strict" category, which is now law in Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin's new photo ID requirement was blocked this month by two judges, who expressed concerns that it would disenfranchise eligible voters who lacked the approved ID. Strict ID laws have been passed in Texas and South Carolina but blocked by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice over concerns that the laws would wind up suppressing minority votes.

Several other states are considering similar strict ID proposals.

If the Senate approves the same language passed by the House, the photo ID measure would appear as a proposed constitutional amendment on the general election ballot on Nov. 6, along with the proposed amendment to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples only, which was passed by the Legislature last year. Kiffmeyer's bill proposes asking voters: "Should the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification on election day and that the state provide free identification to eligible voters?"

If voters approve this question -- and polls show strong support -- it would be up to the 2013 Legislature to determine how to implement the requirement. The ID requirement would go into effect for the November 2013 elections.

Should DFLers win back one or both of the houses of the Legislature in November, the implementation of the law could fall to a party that opposes the photo ID requirement.

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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