GOP Evasiveness On Voter Photo ID Leads To Court Challenge

Several groups will tell the Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday that language for a proposed constitutional amendment voters will see on the ballot in November is misleading. An UpTake video review of how Republicans drafted and answered questions about the “voter photo ID” amendment indicates they did not want the ballot language to be very detailed and the authors have consistently sidestepped questions about the language.

The question voters will see asks if the constitution should require “all voters to present valid photo identification” to vote. However, the amendment would not require photo ID of all voters. And instead of “valid” IDs as stated in the question, only government-issued photo IDs would be accepted.

Not mentioned in the question is the part of the amendment that would require a separate and potentially expensive “provisional balloting” system for Minnesota. 

The court will decide by next month whether the question is so misleading that it should be removed from the ballot.

The court is hearing the case at the request of Common Cause of Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, the League of Women Voters Minnesota and several Minnesota residents.

Questions asked, but not directly answered on path to the ballot

The ambiguity of the language and evasive answers to what it means dogged the amendment as it worked its way through the 2012 legislative session. Opponents wanted a better explanation about the language that is in the amendment but not in the ballot question, such as what “substantially equivalent” means, what qualifies as a government-issued ID, and how provisional balloting will work.

At a hearing, bill author Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (R ) defined the meaning of “substantially equivalent” to mean “equivalent substantially,” which led opponents to say she was trying to avoid answering questions.

“And nobody knows what the words mean,” said Representative Ryan Winkler (DFL). “The words say ‘substantially equivalent verification standards’, but the author of the bill, Representative Kiffmeyer, won’t answer what that means.”

While the ballot language says “all voters” would need to show a photo ID, that’s not what the amendment says. According to Representative Bev Scalze (DFL), the “substantially equivalent” language in the amendment could allow absentee voters to just use the last four digits of their Social Security number, which would create two classes of voters.

“The voters going into the voting booth in 2012 don’t know that,” Representative Scalze told Representative Kiffmeyer during a hearing. “They’re going on… on the idea that all voters will have to show a valid photo ID, when in fact, 20 percent of them won’t. How do you educate the voters looking at your proposed amendment that says all voters…?”

Representative Kiffmeyer deflected the question and objection, saying most voters are familiar with how absentee voting works.

Common Cause of Minnesota suggests that one reason the bill’s authors couldn’t answer those questions directly is that they didn’t actually write the bill, but instead mostly copied it from a “model” bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank funded mostly by large corporations.

Says Mike Dean of Common Cause, “We released a report earlier this year that found over 60 model bills that were drafted by ALEC that have been introduced in the Minnesota state legislature. And they bring the two groups together — corporate lobbyists and legislators — and they sit and draft these bills. And these bills are all designed to really pad the bottom line of these corporations. And so then they bring those bills home, make a few changes to ‘em. Do a quick cut-and-paste job and then introduce them in Minnesota.”

Representative Kiffmeyer is ALEC’s Minnesota State Co-Chair, but says she developed her voter photo ID amendment after years as an election judge, Secretary of State and legislator, not from an ALEC model bill.

The voter photo ID amendment was sent to the November ballot without a single DFL legislator supporting it, which Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says is the wrong way to change election laws. “There will always be debate and spin. Governor Carlson, Governor Pawlenty, Governor Dayton have said the same thing over and over and over. If you want to make big radical changes in election law, it should only be done when there’s very broad agreement and support —otherwise all you have is lawsuits, bitterness, partisan accusations.”

Tuesday’s court hearing may just be the first legal challenge for voter photo ID. Even if it is allowed to go on the ballot and gets a majority of votes, opponents such as Representative Steve Simon (DFL) say the way the amendment is written will invite more court action.

“Other states that have done this, have put explicit language in, like Mississippi’s, saying ‘legislature, come back next year and you can fill in the blanks and do the enabling language.’ Not so here. So ironically, though it’s often conservatives who talk about judges legislating from the bench, here Representative Kiffmeyer is begging judges to legislate from the bench because only they will be able to come up with these terms.”

Allison Herrera

Allison Herrera, originally from San Luis Obispo, Calif.,  studied media and Spanish at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she earned her bachelor s. Since moving to the Twin Cities, she has been a news producer for KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio, communications coordinator for Twin Cities Public Television's arts series MN Original, and producer for the Association of Minnesota Public and Educational Radios Stations for the series MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds.

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