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Thinking about Voter ID

Sorting out the lawsuits


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Instead of enjoying a quiet summer, the Supreme Court has been on Minnesota’s front page as it focuses on various constitutional amendment ballot issues, including Voter ID, passed by the Legislature last session. There are two lawsuits in play right now that will be decided by late  August so that ballots can be printed for the election and distributed for absentee and election-day voting.

You can read the proposed constitutional amendment here (which amends already existing language in article VII, section 1 on eligibility to vote).

Lawsuit #1, Voter ID suit asks for ballot measure to be stricken: A suit from The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, League of Women Voters Minnesota, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota claims the ballot question itself is misleading and asks that it be stricken. Here is the language that is alleged to be misleading:  "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?"

Intervention by legislators in Voter ID suit: After the Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who is a vocal critic of Voter ID laws, declined to defend the ballot measure, the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed state legislators to intervene to defend the measure. (Taxpayers will pay the legal costs for the intervention.) The court heard oral arguments in that case Tuesday, July 17th.

My able colleague, Peter Nelson, argued persuasively that Minnesota law and precedent clearly favor leaving Voter ID, as passed, on the ballot this fall: Longstanding Court Precedent Clearly Supports Putting Voter ID on the Ballot.  It is always hard to predict how a court will rule, but in this case, the law is clearly on the side of leaving Voter ID on the ballot.

Next, Secretary of State Ritchie, who pretends when it is convenient that he views his job as merely ministerial, rewrote the title of the Voter ID ballot measure. (Our senior fellow Kathy Kersten called him out on this (Mark Ritchie is Abusing His Office ) noting that he was backed by San Francisco-based Secretary of State Project (SOS), an independent 527 group cofounded by former leader James Rucker and funded by ultra-left-wing kingmakers such as George Soros. 

Ritchie’s action forced another lawsuit—and required the plaintiffs to ask for donations of private funds to pay legal costs.

Lawsuit #2, Voter ID suit asks for legislature’s ballot title to be upheld: This lawsuit, brought by Minnesota Majority and ballot sponsors Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer and Sen. Scott Newman, argued that the Secretary of State does not have the authority to change the title of the Voter ID measure. The Legislature passed the title "Photo Identification Required for Voting." Ritchie changed  it to "Changes to in-person & absentee voting & voter registration; provisional ballots".

Who is trying to mislead voters on this issue?

If no one had come forward, Ritchie could have printed the ballots with his confusing new title—not the title crafted by the legislature.  Again, the court is expected to rule in the next few weeks so ballots can be printed. (Here is a brief outline of the arguments in this case.)

We have been thinking a lot about the Voter ID issue; American Experiment and the Minnesota Free Market Institute have long argued in favor of Voter ID in Minnesota as the best way to increase the integrity of elections. (Kent Kaiser, a senior fellow, worked for both Secretaries of State Kiffmeyer and Ritchie and has written extensively for us on this issue.)

In particular, we have thinking about the costs of requiring Voter ID at the polls in Minnesota because several studies have been released and cited by opponents of Voter ID with cost estimates for Voter ID that seemed much too high—and with assumptions that are not required by the Voter ID amendment or current law. Opponents are telling the public that Voter ID is going to costs millions and raise local property taxes. (I wish liberals were worried about property taxes more often!)

Any study of costs is speculative in nature because the Legislature has not passed enabling legislation.  The ballot measure is just the first step. It does not tell the Secretary of State how to conduct elections once photo ID is required. Lawmakers still need to fill in the blanks—and with Dayton as governor through 2014, if a bill passes it will be a bi-partisan measure.

So we decided to look at these studies—and to do some estimates of our own. We’ll have some preliminary results for you this month—and a more detailed study after Labor Day.

The 2011 legislature attempted to handle Voter ID by statute rather than by constitutional amendment. Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, our former Secretary of State, and Sen. Warren Limmer sponsored HF201/SF509.  Gov. Dayton vetoed it, saying it would end same-day voter registration (it would not end same day registration—it would end vouching which is only allowed in one other state).

If the people of Minnesota embrace Voter ID  this fall, the 2013 legislature will at least try to  pass legislation that will tell us a lot more about how this will work in practice. There are many different approaches to voting and Voter ID under our wonderful federalist system, the great “laboratory of states”. (I am not sure what happens if Dayton vetoes future enabling legislation.)

Here is an interactive map from the National Conferences of State Legislatures that demonstrates a wide variety of approaches and how a majority of states either require ID or are thinking of doing so in the future:

Here is a 2012 NCSL report: Voter ID continues to be a high-profile issue in many state legislatures this year. This year, legislation is pending in 32 states so far. That includes new voter ID proposals in 14 states, proposals to strengthen existing voter ID laws in ten states, and bills in nine states to amend the new voter ID laws passed in 2011.

As Minnesotans, we pride ourselves on being honest—and for high voter turnout. We are naïve to think, however, that all our neighbors share that solid ethic. And we have a duty to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised—and that elections are not decided--- by fraud.


If you would like more information about Voter ID in MN:  and