by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
A Photo ID constitutional amendment passed the Republican House in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 21, partially setting the stage for a second proposed constitutional amendment appearing on the November ballot.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, saw her legislation pass the House on a 72 to 62 party line vote after a nine-hour debate.
“We don’t say close enough is good enough,” said Kiffmeyer, former secretary of state, of election integrity in Minnesota.
Kiffmeyer’s amendment, if approved by voters, would require voters to show a valid, government-issued photo ID before receiving a ballot. It would require the state, at no charge, to provide photo IDs to eligible voters.
It also provides for provisional balloting for voters unable to provide a photo ID on election day.
For the provisional ballot to be counted, voters would later need to provide a photo ID to election officials.
Kiffmeyer deemed the current state election system “very weak” in terms of voter registration.
But Democrats attacked the proposed amendment on political and perceived technical grounds.
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, argued that Republicans, thwarted by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of their Photo ID legislation last year, were attempting to insert policy preferences into the state constitution — things not deserving translation into the near “forever language” of the state constitution.
Republicans, in wrongly turning to the use of constitutional amendments, were feeding a “retaliatory impulse” in others, Simon said.
That is, lawmakers in future legislatures, thwarted in their policy quests, will also attempt to sidestep the governor’s office through the use of constitutional amendments. “The (political) arms race is starting today,” Simon said.
“What you’re doing is launching a missile,” he said of voting for Photo ID.
Rep. Sandra Peterson, DFL-New Hope, spoke of being confused by visitors to the Capitol for Kiffmeyer. That people made the mistake, Peterson explained, shows the limits of visual identification.
She suggested in the near future eye-scans or other forms of advanced identification would replace the use of photos.
Democrats unsuccessfully offered a series of amendments.
One theme they hit on was perceived vagueness in the legislation pertaining to state-issued photo IDs going to eligible voters.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, and other Democrats argued the provision would force the state into providing limitless numbers of free IDs.
One proposed Democratic amendment would have allowed voters whose physical likeness or identity had been verified prior to election day to vote.
But Kiffmeyer rejected the idea.
“It would still allow for vouching,” Kiffmeyer said, who wore the trademark blazing red attire that she wore as secretary of state. Any provision that allows for vouching is one preserving a flaw in the current system, she argued.
Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, argued that language in the legislation specifying voters in a polling place on election day must show a photo ID to obtain a ballot, in its exact application, would rule out absentee balloting.
Constitutional language will trump any legislation directed at correcting this outcome, she argued.
But a Hortman amendment was voted down.
So was an amendment offered by Winkler to exempt military veterans in state nursing homes from Photo ID requirement.
Simon argued Republicans were pursuing a course of action simply because they could.
“I think what we’re seeing here tonight is a display of political power,” he said. “A total lack of self discipline. A total lack of self control.”
A number of Republicans rose on the House floor to speak in favor of the amendment.
Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, argued the proposed amendment offered no barrier to voting.
Indeed, it provided an opportunity to help people without IDs obtain one, he suggested. “To give them a ride, so they can get an ID.” McDonald said.
Polling shows a strong majority of Minnesotans support the “common sense” Photo ID amendment, said Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina.
“You can still vote (without an ID),” said Downey of provisional balloting.
Rep. Doug Wardlow, R-Eagan, argued that in voting without stringent requirements “you’re actually draining the right to vote of any meaning,” he said.
In answering Democratic concerns about college students being disenfranchised as a result of lacking valid IDs, Wardlow looked to provisional balloting as a safeguard.
“Even in a worst case scenario, they can cast a provisional ballot,” he said.
Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, in response to concerns on the impact of the proposed amendment on military veterans, said veterans are used to showing photo IDs.
To have blood drawn in a veterans’ hospital, to enter a military base, to tee-off at a military golf course, “you must show your ID,” he said. Most veterans, if asked, would agree, Dettmer said.
“‘Show your ID when you vote,’” he said.
Other Republicans argued that voting was never meant to be effort free.
“We are not entitled to barrier-free voting,” said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, in closing the debate.
Kiffmeyer before the final vote said that in the state’s current election system it’s “easy to vote, easy to cheat.”
With Photo ID it will still be easy to vote but hard to cheat, she said.
Voters at this time have given Republicans the majority, Kiffmeyer said. “And we’re following through,” she said.
The Republican Senate has not yet passed its Photo ID amendment.
Republicans have already placed a same-sex marriage ban proposed amendment on the November ballot.