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There's one thing that the 2010 election and the recent recount in the governor's race made clear: It's time to stop arguing about whether we should institute photo ID for voting and time to start discussing how best to implement it.

Readers might have heard about how the "reconciliation" process became a point of contention in the recount. With a photo ID system, coupled with the electronic poll books that photo ID would allow us to use, this issue would go away. There would be no extra "voter receipts" floating around, and voters would receive their "receipts" or ballots only after showing and swiping their photo IDs.

Readers might also have heard about how county officials are having difficulty adding all of the voter registration cards from Election Day into the voter database in a timely fashion — this is a major problem after every election in our state. Again, with a photo ID system, this issue would go away. Upon arriving at the polling place, un-registered voters would simply swipe their photo ID cards to populate the fields in the state's computerized voter registration system (rather than writing out a card to be data-entered later). In this way, implementing photo ID for voting would save counties tens of thousands of dollars — an estimated $25,000 to $45,000 per election in Hennepin County alone — and would eliminate data-entry errors that result in misspellings, double entries, and more.

Additional benefits to instituting photo ID for voting include reducing and perhaps eliminating lines on Election Day and increasing voter privacy, as voters would not have to say their names aloud to get a ballot. The problem of voters inadvertently voting in the wrong precinct would go away. Also, we would save thousands of pounds of paper (and a lot of money) by not having to print voter rosters for the polling places.

And, of course, instituting photo ID for voting would increase election integrity as well.

During the last legislative session, a vote on photo ID enjoyed bipartisan support in the Minnesota House, though the measure was blocked from being heard by DFL leaders in the state Senate. This year, many candidates for the state Legislature campaigned on the issue of photo ID, and it was noted in the media to be the biggest applause-getter at political gatherings. It was also the only issue that governor candidate Tom Emmer mentioned in his concession speech this month.

A Rasmussen poll this past summer found that 82 percent of people — an overwhelming, bipartisan majority — favored photo ID for voting, and only 14 percent disagreed. Of course, there are anti-reform special interests such as ACORN derivatives, Common Cause, and Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota who will pretend that our antiquated system is adequate and try to oppose the inevitable.

Yet, with pro-photo-ID majorities in both the House and Senate, it is a safe prediction that the reform will be passed, no matter what the governor thinks of it — perhaps even as a constitutional amendment presented to the voters. If anti-reform legislators or the governor try to stand in the way, pro-reform legislators will certainly find a way to get it passed.

Given that, there are some options on implementation that should be discussed sooner rather than later.

There will be options on how to equip citizens with IDs. It probably makes sense to give state ID cards to voters who can't afford them — a side benefit being that it would help them function in other aspects of daily life.

There will be some difficult scenarios, like those experienced by overseas absentee voters and nursing home residents, which will have to be addressed.

There will also be options on the technology to use with photo ID. Electronic poll books interface with photo IDs essentially in the way Minnesotans are accustomed to when they purchase fishing and hunting licenses. One of the best, most versatile options for the electronic poll books is Minnesota's own Datacard Group; estimates predict a positive return-on-investment in only three years.

The implementation of photo ID for voting is long overdue and worth applauding. Minnesota has an opportunity to have a great election system once again and we should get our plan in place. 
 
Kent Kaiser, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Northwestern College in St. Paul and a Center of the American Experiment senior fellow.  His Center report, "Fifteen Recommendations for Fixing Minnesota Election Law" can be found here.

This commentary originally appeared in the Pioneer Press on December 30, 2010. 

Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted

 

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