2012 Issues: Voter ID

The Voter ID amendment is billed as a way to stop vote fraud, but it will actually prevent lots of legally eligible voters from voting — and it won’t stop vote fraud. How does that work? Let’s take a look at the language of the amendment, and at how it would work.

All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law. All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.

You won’t see this language on the ballot. The ballot has much more innocuous language, leaving out all the parts about provisional ballots and giving no hint of all the undefined gray areas that are left for the legislature to decide. The ballot question will read only:

 “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

That’s what the amendment says, and that’s what the ballot questions says, and here’s where the problems begin.

Preventing legally eligible voters from voting

Many Minnesotans do not have government-issued photographic identification. Who are these Minnesotans?

Some 11 percent of all Minnesotans eligible to vote do not have a government-issued photo ID with their address on it.

The League of Women Voters notes that “The percentage is higher among certain groups: the elderly (18%), younger adults (18%), minorities (25% of African-Americans) and people who are low-income (15%).”

Getting a photo ID costs time and money. Sure, the amendment says the ID is free, but the documents to prove who you are cost money. The League of Women Voters explains:

People applying for a “free” voter photo-ID would have to travel to a Department of Vehicle Services office – in some cases 50-100 miles roundtrip — and would be required to show secondary documents, which may cost $35. For example, a married woman who changed her name after she got married would have to provide both her birth certificate and her marriage certificate to get a “free” ID. A birth certificate costs $26 in Minnesota and a marriage license costs $9. She also may face delays in getting those documents, especially if they are coming from out of state.

If you live in the metro area, where government offices are nearby, and if you $5 on a latte every morning, neither the distance nor the costs sound so bad. But it’s a whole different story if you are living on $31.50 in food stamps per week, or if you live in a rural area and have to travel a long way to the right offices.

On a typical election day, according to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, people without valid ID include20-40,000 people who have lost or had their wallets stolen, where they have lost their id but haven’t gotten a duplicate yet.”

The original Voter ID legislation, vetoed last year by Governor Mark Dayton, required that the government-issued ID have a picture of the voter and the voter’s address, to show where they were eligible to vote. Now the amendment does not require an address, but leaves that question, and many others, to be decided later by the legislature. Does the ID need to have an address? We don’t know. Does it need to show the voter’s age? We don’t know. How can an ID be obtained? We don’t know. Do you need to show a birth certificate or naturalization papers to prove citizenship? We don’t know. We are just supposed to trust the legislature to do the right thing, whatever that may be.

Then there’s the question of those provisional ballots. If you don’t have an acceptable, government-issued photo ID on election day, you might be able to cast a provisional ballot. What’s that? Again, that’s up to the legislature. The League of Women Voters tells us what the legislature tried to require in 2011:

Provisional balloting requires the voter to return to the county auditor’s office within a few days to present the necessary voter photo-ID documentation. Otherwise, the vote doesn’t count.  In many cases, a citizen who has the right to vote but does not have the proper voter photo-ID will not be able to get one within a few days. In addition, even voters who forgot their IDs at home would have to return during a weekday to a county auditor’s or municipal clerk’s office, requiring time off from work and transportation to and from the offices.

If you lose your driver’s license, it takes more than seven days to get a replacement. If you were born in Mississippi and need to get your birth certificate in order to prove your citizenship, that will take more than seven days.

And, while the amendment doesn’t explicitly address election day registration, some of the backers of the amendment have already sued to stop it — or at least to stop the counting of election day registrants’ ballots. A federal judge dismissed their lawsuit in August. According to the Star Tribune:

“[Secretary of State Mark] Ritchie said again Friday that the constitutional amendment “would eliminate same-day registration as we know it.” What’s more, Minnesota Voters Alliance is talking about an appeal of [Federal District Judge] Donovan Frank’s decision. The threat continues.”

Preventing fraud? Not really

Even if there were a real problem with fraud, which is not the case, the Voter ID would not be much help. The only thing that a photo ID would prevent is one person voting under another person’s name.

When the ACLU offered a reward for anyone who could find a case of voter impersonation in Minnesota, the best the Voter ID people could come up with was a mother who filled out her daughter’s absentee ballot, after a phone conversation with the daughter, who was away at college. The daughter then forgot about the conversation and voted at college. Because it’s illegal to fill out an absentee ballot for someone else, the mother was convicted of a felony. That’s the only case they could find. And that’s why we should change the constitution?

The Minnesota Majority says Minnesota is “#1 in voter fraud.” Why? Because 156 ineligible felons were convicted of voting. Ineligible felon voting is not a problem that would be solved by photo IDs. A photo ID doesn’t say whether someone is ineligible to vote because they are on parole or probation for a felony. So it would not prevent ineligible felons from voting. (And, after completing probation or parole, felons regain voting rights.)

Take a look at the current voter registration procedures. They provide a pretty comprehensive set of safeguards and identification procedures. And they are working. Minnesota consistently has one of the highest voter participation rates in the country. We take citizenship seriously. We exercise our right to vote. We do it honestly and responsibly. A CBS fact check noted that “If you think of voter fraud as an organized effort where people are impersonating other voters, there’s never been a conviction of that in Minnesota.”

As far as I can see, the biggest voting fraud is the Voter ID amendment, which will keep eligible voters away from the polling place on the pretense of solving a non-existent problem.

[I’m taking time off this weekend for a writing retreat. I’m going to spend time writing about several election issues. In some ways, this feels like a futile exercise — who’s listening to me, anyway? And hasn’t it all been said already? Even so, I’m going to do it, writing what I think and linking to sources I trust, where you can get a lot more information. This post is one of my 2012 issues series.

1 Comment

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One response to “2012 Issues: Voter ID

  1. Most of us who have been involved in politics or elections know that it is far more effective, lest costly, more reliably and easier to get more votes for your candidate through legal means than by trying to send imposters to the polls. The politicians who proposed the amendment know this. Anyone who has worked on campaigns for more than one election cycle knows this. (Well, I know that some don’t, but all types of fiction keep us tied into our social causes if there isn’t any meat on it.) Funny. Having an ID, even with a “current” address on it does not mean that a person is a legal voter. There are so many analogies that could be inserted here, but I don’t trust myself to maintain civility.


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