The Minnesota Senate on Monday passed a requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, a longtime GOP priority with little to no chance of becoming law this year under the state's divided government.
Republican allegations of massive election fraud and Democratic accusations of a nationwide GOP campaign to restrict voting rights were on full display in the hourslong debate before a party-line vote.
"Millions of Americans are now lacking trust in our system," said state Sen. Scott Newman, a Hutchinson Republican who sponsored the legislation. "This is one of the fastest and easiest ways we can restore their faith and protect the rights of all legal voters."
Under the proposal, Minnesotans would be required to have a valid government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license to cast a ballot. Those without one would be able to get a free "voter ID" card issued by the state.
Anyone who does not have a photo ID on Election Day could cast a provisional ballot and follow up to prove that person's identity to election officials. The bill would also allow voters who cannot provide documentation proving their eligibility to sign an affidavit affirming that they are legal to vote.
Democrats argued that the bill would restrict voting rights, making it harder for people from communities of color, the elderly and people with disabilities to vote. Multiple critics added that the measure would guard only against voter impersonation, something they said was rare-to-nonexistent in Minnesota.
Those opposing the bill placed it alongside Republican proposals across at least 43 states to tighten voting access nationwide. They also linked references to voting fraud and mistrust to rampant misinformation surrounding the 2020 election.
"The myth of voter fraud and the resulting push of restrictive legislative proposals is unacceptable," said Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville. "We should be doing work to solve actual problems instead of imposing policies that put deliberate barriers in the place of people exercising their right to vote."
During Monday's floor debate, Newman refused a request from state Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, to join him in declaring that Democratic President Joe Biden defeated former GOP President Donald Trump "in a fair and secure election" and to "move forward in dismantling the distrust in this electoral system."
"No, I do not agree with that," Newman said, adding that the 2020 presidential election "had absolutely nothing to do with me bringing this bill forward at this time."
Republicans pointed to other longstanding requirements for photo ID such as air travel, buying alcohol or tobacco and getting a tattoo or piercing.
"When 36 states have already done it and we require a driver's license for just about everything, and we will give a free driver's license to anybody that needs one … the way we're doing it isn't right in Minnesota," said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, defended voter ID as something that would "make it hard to cheat but easy to vote." To make his point he also cited, without evidence, claims that "hundreds and thousands of ballots" were cast under the names of dead voters in the 2020 election.
"That is not true, there is no evidence of that and it should not stand unchallenged," Klein later responded. "We wonder why there is a diminishment in voter trust and faith in elections in this state and in this country, and it is because elected officials make statements just like that one not backed by evidence."
Newman's proposal first failed in 2012 as a statewide ballot measure that would have adopted the requirement as a constitutional amendment. Neither Newman's bill nor a House companion was included in either chamber's government and elections finance bills that passed last month.
In an interview earlier this year, Newman acknowledged the long odds his proposal faced under the Legislature's current makeup, but said he was pushing the issue with a longer view in mind.
"Coming forward with the bill in 2021 will give the voters in the state of Minnesota one more opportunity to evaluate their elected officials and see whether or not their elected officials and those running for office support their views on any number of issues," Newman said.
"And voter ID is one of those issues that I am certain will be discussed as we enter the 2022 election cycle."
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755