Photo ID Backers Claim Early Minnesota Voting Unconstitutional

A proposal to allow early voting in Minnesota is being called “unconstitutional” by conservatives who led last year’s unsuccessful attempt to restrict voting through a “Photo ID” constitutional amendment.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R- Big Lake), author of the failed “voter photo ID” amendment argues that a proposal to allow early voting may be illegal because Minnesota’s Constitution sets a specific day for the election and does not allow for voting before then. She also suggested that laws allowing absentee voting that have been in effect for decades should be re-examined. Kiffmeyer made the remarks at a Wednesday Senate hearing after Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, a conservative group that helped draft the failed constitutional amendment, brought up the potential constitutional problem with early voting. Senator Scott Limmer (R-Maple Grove), echoed Kiffmeyer’s concerns.

Beth Fraser from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office said her office would research the question, but told the Senate Rules Committee that absentee voting and the proposed early voting do not conflict with the Constitution because the ballots are not counted until election day.

“I don’t believe this changes election day,” Fraser said. “Election day is the day ballots are counted.”

Absentee ballots have become Minnesota’s de facto early voting

The proposal would allow Minnesotans to vote up to 15 days before an election. Most of the testimony offered at the hearing was in support of the change, with senior citizens saying it would help them avoid the stress of standing in long lines. President Barack Obama called for early voting measures in his State of the Union Address, introducing a 102-year-old Florida woman who was forced to stand in line for more than three hours to cast her ballot.

The author of the Minnesota bill, Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport), says political parties encourage Minnesotans to “vote early” by using an absentee ballot. To vote absentee, a voter must swear that he or she is doing so for one of five specific reasons allowed by law. The reason most voters give is they will be absent from their precinct. Sieben says the growing popularity of absentee voting shows that Minnesotans would like to have the convenience of voting before election day.

McGrath said Sieben’s early voting proposal was “extraordinarily dangerous for the integrity of our election system.” He added that “we can simply not have every election convenience to make voting easier and at the same time have none of the features that other states employ to make cheating harder, unless our objective of course is to be governed by the candidates and parties who cheat the best.”

McGrath’s group has often alleged that there is cheating in Minnesota elections. Last year he claimed the voter photo ID constitutional amendment was defeated because of voter fraud. However when the state canvassing board met to certify the election, Minnesota Election Director Gary Poser said there was no evidence of voter fraud in Minnesota’s 2012 general election.

Video at top of page: Sen. Sieben, Minnesota Majority’s McGrath and the Secretary of State’s Fraser talk about the early voting bill.
Video below: Wednesday’s full hearing on the early voting bill

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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