The issue of election integrity has been bandied about for several years. The answer for some in this debate is that we need to alter the framework of our state in order to protect the integrity of our elections.
The ACLU of Minnesota strongly supports election integrity but rejects the premise that we must restructure our government to ensure it.
The primary problem affecting election integrity is not that perhaps as many as 100 votes (out of 2.1 million cast in the last election) were cast by people who could not legally vote because they were felons still on probation. Rather, the problem is that more than 40 percent of our electorate did not vote. That problem dwarfs the number of alleged illegal voters, many of whom are now facing criminal prosecution.
According to the Minnesota Judicial Computer System, a total of 77 people have been convicted for voter fraud since 2009. Even if all 77 had voted in the tightest election in state history (Franken vs. Coleman) and they had all voted for the eventual winner, and all their votes had been thrown out, it wouldn't have changed the result.
Second, the implied allegation is that some vague and substantial number of people are voting under false identities -- and that this number is so high that these unknown people are stealing our elections. This is despite the fact that barely one-half of those eligible to vote actually do so. There is no proven harm, only vague allegations supported by repeated testimony designed to make these allegations true by constant repetition.
To solve this ephemeral problem, the Legislature proposes to create what amounts to an internal passport in Minnesota, much like those in the former Soviet Union. For now, these identification documents would be required if a person is to vote, but they inevitably would be used for a broad range of purposes in the future. After the rejection of Real ID by a past Legislature (almost unanimously), we are amazed that this scheme has any support.
Third, both sides in this debate agree that hundreds of thousands of people will be instantly disenfranchised with this bill. While many of these people could apply for and get an internal passport, some certainly would be unable to do so. The ACLU is appalled that anyone would blithely accept that consequence as a way to cure a problem that does not exist.
Fourth, requiring what amounts to an internal passport to vote will require immobile people to mobilize. People in nursing homes or military personnel stationed overseas will somehow have to find a way to get to a drivers license station for a current internal passport. Otherwise they risk becoming second-class citizens who can only cast provisional ballots that may ultimately be rejected unless they somehow obtain an internal passport shortly after the election.
Finally, this bill would impose a poll tax on Minnesotans. If you have a driver's license ($24 to renew), you are ineligible to get a free ID. If you move, you will have to reapply and repay in order to vote. Poll taxes violate the U.S. Constitution.
While this is now a bill, it is clear that those pushing this internal passport will seek to amend the state Constitution should this legislation be justly vetoed. That would be an even worse idea. Minnesota's Constitution is like the framing of your house, and voting is its main load-bearing member. Amending the constitution is like reframing a house while you live in it in order to solve a termite problem that doesn't exist. It does nothing but destroy election integrity while creating yet another specter of big government.
Hopefully that thought will also occur to the members of the Legislature.
Chuck Samuelson is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.