PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: More questions, than answers on voter ID
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 3:23 AM
If you study political lawn signs, you'll notice that opinions on the voter ID amendment to the Minnesota Constitution follow party lines. Yards supporting DFL candidates have signs against the amendment and yards full of signs for Republican candidates have signs supporting the amendment.
That follows the lead of the Legislature, which voted to place the question on the ballot this fall with a nearly unanimous partisan vote.
The measure to put the question on the ballot was supported only by Republicans. Every Republican, except state Sen. Jeremy Miller, in both the House and Senate voted in favor of this proposal.
The partisan nature of this amendment makes it unworthy of being on the ballot. Although the state constitution doesn't have the weight of our national Constitution, amendments should be nonpartisan in nature, rather than an attempt by one party go get around a DFL governor veto.
Miller supports voter ID. He voted for a bill in the Legislature last session that was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, but opposes the end-around the veto in the form of a constitutional amendment because "I do not believe we should legislate through the constitution," he said in response to a question from our newspaper.
There have been some extreme opinions on the matter. Proponents point to stolen elections, widespread fraud and corruption in the election process while opponents point to widespread voter disenfranchisement, increases in property taxes to fund it and delays in election reporting.
As in any partisan issue, fear is a prime tactic to gain support. The reality is that likely the change, or maintaining the status quo, will have less significant consequences than the predictions.
Still, there are other reasons to be concerned about the process. The most baffling aspect is that the Legislature agreed to put it on the ballot before figuring out how it would work or how much it would cost. Those are important details that voters should know before making their vote.
Also, will ingraining something into the constitution prevent the state from addressing new issues as technology changes? Although you need a photo ID to cash a check, many people don't even use checks any more. Will the state at some point want to offer new methods of voting, just as private businesses offer new ways of doing business?
There are many other arguments on this issue and you've probably read about the pros and cons that detail all the problems with one side or the other, so they don't need to be rehashed, but there are some troubling aspects to the issue that aren't always apparent. Here are a few observations with a nonpartisan view on the issue.
Tom Horner and Tim Penny, former Independent Party candidates for governor, in a column for the Star Tribune wrote: "The proposed voter ID constitutional amendment is a solution in search of a problem. Advocates of the amendment argue that Minnesota leads the nation in voter fraud. The reality? Even during the hotly contested and lengthy recount accompanying the 2008 Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman - with high-priced lawyers and partisan advocates spending millions of dollars to gain any edge - fraud wasn't found or even credibly claimed."
Arne Carlson, a former Republican governor, as reported in the Post-Bulletin, said "How dare any legislative body, Democrat or Republican, put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that it itself doesn't fully understand, that is not the result of a study and not identifying the true problem it is designed to resolve, and it can't look voters in the face and tell them how it's going to work."
He said another issue is that many of the details about what sort of identification would qualify and how these standards would be met for absentee and mail-in voting won't be known until after the amendment passes and lawmakers write enacting legislation.
Elizabeth MacNamara, the national president of the League of Women Voters, recently visited Minnesota from her home in Georgia to speak out against the measure.
According to an online blog on the Star Tribune website, she accused politicians around the country of "manipulating our election laws for their own benefit" and said the costs of photo ID could be better directed toward training and adding more poll workers.
Regarding Minnesota's voting system, she said "Turnout here is the highest in the nation. This is a system that has been working for Minnesotans for many, many years."
So, why is there a rush to change that?