Committee Summary: Senate Committee on Civil Law and Data Practices (Feb. 9)

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By: McKenzie Kemper, Freelance Journalist-in-Training

The Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee in the Senate met on Feb. 9, 2021 to discuss Bill 173, which covers election voter registration photo ID requirements, voter identification care creation, provisional ballots establishment, and appropriations.

This bill was brought by Sen. Scott Newman (R-District 18) to the General Assembly in 2020, but the process of passing the bill was cut short because of COVID-19. This bill relies heavily on the federal Supreme Court case of Crawford v. Marion County, in which it was determined that there are several legitimate state interests in implementing photo ID voting methods. This bill is also similar to one brought forth in the 2012 session, but it does not have Minnesota constitutional requirements. The bill is designed to address the rare cases of voter fraud in Minnesota and promote voter confidence. The committee’s primary concern on Tuesday was the bill provision that would cover the costs of required documents, so that citizens may obtain their voter registration ID. Republican members of the committee seemed overwhelmingly in favor of passing the bill so that it could take its next steps, and the Democratic members of the committee seemed vehemently opposed. 

Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-District 12) argued that he heard multiple accounts of dead people voting and unqualified persons voting in the 2020 general election. Westrom also stated that if every vote is to count then we should have steps in place to guarantee that each vote is a viable, using an election he lost by one vote as a primary example as to why this bill is necessary. Arguments were also made that there should be no acceptable amount of voter fraud, just like there should be no acceptable number of wrongful convictions, and that we should be wary of letting people voting illegally escape consequences. 

The Democratic members of the committee, who are also in minority, argued that the amount of potentially fraudulent votes is negligible compared to the upwards of 30% of voters who may be disenfranchised if the Legislature establishes voter ID laws in Minnesota, which could prevent voters from returning to polling sites or accessing necessary documentation, among other reasons. 

The bill creates a system where voters who do not have their voter ID on hand, or have inaccurate information, would need to return their provisional ballots to their election auditor. If the voter does not have documentation on hand to confirm their identity, they may need to sign an affidavit confirming that they are who they say they are. 

Members on both sides of the aisle raised passionate points about the well-being of voters in Minnesota, but ultimately the ayes had it and the bill will move onto the Financial Committee for further discussion.  

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