The volatile issue of requiring every voter to show a photo ID at the polls boiled over Monday in a dispute over race.

Opponents of photo ID, which is moving briskly through the Legislature as a proposed constitutional amendment, accused a pro-ID group of using racial images on its website to play to racial fears and win support.

"An African-American man in a prison uniform is what proponents of this issue have made photo ID all about,'' said Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, a liberal group that opposes the amendment.

He referred to a photo illustration of characters lined up outside a voting booth on a pro-ID website called The images include a black man in cartoon-like prison stripes, a Latino character in mariachi garb, a superhero, a spectral skeleton and a white-sheet ghost. The text reads: "Voter Fraud --Watch how easy it is to cheat in Minnesota's elections."

"We are here today to express our absolute outrage at the race-baiting and the overt racism that proponents of the photo ID amendment from the likes of Minnesota Majority have put forward,'' McGrath said at a Capitol news conference.

A spokesman for Minnesota Majority, which maintains the website, adamantly denied the allegation.

The TakeAction group, joined by state Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said the black and Hispanic images are part of an attempt to use race to build support for the photo ID requirement. TakeAction cites studies suggesting that blacks are less likely to have a government-issued photo ID with current address that meets the requirement.

McGrath said Minnesota Majority and allied groups are using "race and not-so-subtle racism to feed a public perception of fear." He said the same groups conducted an advertising campaign in predominantly black neighborhoods in the 2010 election "to suppress the vote of African-American voters."

Pro-ID: Leftist smear

The head of Minnesota Majority -- whose name is also Dan McGrath -- said there was no attempt to use race to advance the photo ID proposal. The prison-striped figure refers to felons voting, he said, and the mariachi character represents illegal immigrants. The other figures represent "dead voters and fictitious identities," he said.

He accused the TakeAction group of using "race-baiting" in place of solid arguments.

"Page One in the playbook of the leftist groups is to smear your opponent as a right-wing religious bigot," said Minnesota Majority's McGrath. He said the 2010 effort was part of a statewide attempt to "suppress voter fraud" and to put out the message that illegal voters would get caught.

Photo ID has become the flash-point issue of the 2012 session. It was vetoed last year by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton when the Republican-led Legislature passed it as a bill. This year, the Legislature's plan is to put it on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment, a strategy that gets around Dayton's veto.

The issue strikes deep emotions among black voters, according to Moran and Nick Muhammad, an organizer for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. "What I see in this voter ID bill is nothing more than a 21st-century Jim Crow legislation," said Moran, one of four black members of the Legislature.

"We paid a dear price to get the right to vote,'' said Muhammad. "I don't see any excuse ... to blatantly target people who fought so hard to become a part of this society."

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042