PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Constitutional amendment
merely a partisan run-around
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:19 AM
The state ballot will be a little longer this fall as voters must decide on a second proposal for a constitutional amendment. In addition to the marriage amendment, ballots will include a proposal to amend the state's constitution to include the requirement that voters in future elections produce government-issued photo identification.
Once again it is a partisan vote - merely another way around the governor's veto rather than a thoughtful approach toward an amendment that is appropriate for our constitution.
Actually, the vote was almost entirely partisan. Our own state senator, Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, should be commended for being the only Republican in the Senate or House to vote against the measure.
It's not that he is against voter ID. He just doesn't agree that the end justifies the means.
"I support the concept of photo ID and voted in favor of photo ID legislation last session, but it was vetoed by Gov. Dayton," said Miller when contacted about his views on this issue.
"I do feel that the Legislature should address the concerns many Minnesotans have about our election process, however, I don't believe that legislating through the constitution is good public policy.There are certain issues that rise to the level of a constitutional amendment, but after a lot of thought, research and feedback from constituents, I didn't think photo ID was one of those issues."
Since the state's founding in 1858, Minnesotans have voted on 213 amendments to the state constitution, approving 120 of them. Although the amendments have included some frivolous ones, they have also fundamentally altered the structure of the state's government.
In recent years, the approved amendments have included a state lottery in 1988, abolishment of the state treasurer's office in 1998, dedication of motor vehicle sales tax to highways and public transportation in 2006 and an increase in the state sales tax for natural resources and cultural heritage projects in 2008. The last amendment to be rejected was in 1994 when voters declined to approve off-track betting for horse racing.
The newest amendment proposal, though, fits the overall trend at the state Capitol the past couple years in that it is a partisan maneuver for one party to gain the upper hand.
On the record, Republicans feel that there are serious problems with improper voting in the state of Minnesota. Democrats feel that this law will disenfranchise certain voters, including poor people, the elderly and college students. The truth is probably somewhere in between, although each party is fighting hard because it wants an advantage in the next election.
As this column, in an attempt at humor, pointed out last month, if proponents of the measure feel the state's voting system is so corrupt, all those elected officials should resign from their jobs because their status is not legitimate.
With a more serious tone this time, there are many reasons to object to this method, even if there are concerns about the integrity of our elections.
The measure appears rushed with many uncertainties. The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said "the exact mechanics of how this is going to work is going to be taken up by the Legislature next year" during debate on the issue.
Those mechanics could have quite an impact on our elections. For example, will all Minnesota soldiers serving overseas be able to cast absentee ballot? What about others who vote by absentee ballot? Will nursing home residents be able to vote in their usual manner? What about private college students who don't have government-issued identification?
Same-day registration has helped Minnesota lead the nation in voter turnout. How will this be handled and what effect will it have on voting? More than 540,000 voters used election registration in the last presidential election. Besides the questions about voting, will it also lead to delays in results as the identifications of new voters are verified?
Bipartisan agreement is especially important on voting rules, meaning Minnesota's constitution shouldn't be amended to serve just one political party. Dayton, as well as past governors, note that when it comes to the right to vote, laws should be crafted in a cooperative, bipartisan way that does not give an edge to one party or the other.
Why didn't Republicans even consider the electronic poll-book compromise proposed by DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie? This option wouldn't have required photo ID or a change in the constitution. Ritchie said such a system would cost $10 million compared to the $40 million estimated for implementing the photo ID requirement. Election judges would be able to access the state's database, instantly verifying a person's identity under this system.
All these questions don't matter now because the question will be on the ballot, although there is a possibility of a court challenge, which has been common in other states.
Still, it may have other ramifications. For example, will DFL legislators try the same tactics in the future when the pendulum swings the other way, as it has a habit of doing? Will this make bipartisan agreements more difficult for the important issues that have been put on hold this year? After all, what was thought to be the primary bipartisan issue, the bonding bill, is falling apart along party lines.
Legislators have been at it for two months now and this is the most striking issue to come out of their work. It's looking a lot like 2011, which ended with a shutdown of state government. That won't happen this year, but the outlook doesn't look like the 2012 session will be any more productive.
Some are predicting the least productive session in recent history. The state's voters should keep that in mind when voting, not on the constitutional amendments, but on our elected officials.