Constitutional amendments on voter identification and marriage issue put to vote

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

Voters will see two proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot on Nov. 6.

Both are controversial.

The so-called marriage amendment seeks to place in the state constitution language defining marriage as the union of man and woman.

The question asked of voters reads: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota and would remain illegal even if the proposed marriage amendment fails.

As with all proposed amendments, leaving the ballot question unmarked translates into a “No” vote.

The Republican legislature passed the marriage amendment last session. Although Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposes it, governors cannot veto proposed constitutional amendments.

Debate on the proposed amendments has been emotional.

Amendment supporters object to same-sex marriage for religious, legal, and cultural reasons.

In one legislative hearing, Catholic Bishop John Quinn of the Diocese of Winona spoke of same-sex marriage as an “untested social experiment.”

But Jeff Wilfahrt of Rosemount spoke of his dead son, Spc. Andrew Wilfahrt, age 31, a gay soldier, killed by insurgents in Afghanistan.

“On the battlefield, both heteros and homosexuals bleed red. I cannot imagine what those last moments of life must have been for him,” Wilfahrt said.

Marriage amendment proponents believe adding the language to the state constitution will fend off legal challenges in court to the state Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said earlier this year that passage of the amendment would indeed make it unfeasible to challenge state DOMA law in state court on the grounds the law violates equal protection rights afford by the state constitution.

Legal challenges could still be made in federal court, they noted.

In general, Democrats opposed the marriage amendment while, in general, Republicans supported it.

The so-called photo ID proposed amendment places before voters the following question: “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?”

Unlike the marriage amendment, which would add little actual language to the state constitution, the Photo ID amendment, if passed, adds a handful of additional sentences.

These say that the state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of ID meeting the requirements of the law.

They detail that a voter unable to present a government-issued photographic ID must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot and that the provisional ballot must be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in a manner provided by law.

And they detail that all voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.

Lawmakers, if the amendment is approved, would need to work out additional details of the voting provision when the legislature reconvenes in January.

In general, Democrats oppose the photo ID amendment while Republicans support it.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken recently called the amendment “a solution in search of a problem.”

Democrats often refer to he amendment as the “voter suppression amendment” as some believe its aimed at suppressing traditional DFL voting blocs.

But former Secretary of State, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who carried Photo ID legislation in the House, argues differently.

“We don’t say close enough is good enough,” Kiffmeyer said of election integrity in Minnesota.

Further, Republicans argue the amendment makes sense — that many activities in life less exalted than voting require photo identification.

Cost of implementing the proposed amendment, if approved by voters, ranges into the tens of millions of dollars.