Resolve by month’s end: Voter ID ballot question at center of three legal disputes

As an Aug. 27 deadline to print general election ballots nears, legal challenges centered on Minnesota’s voter identification ballot question […]

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As an Aug. 27 deadline to print general election ballots nears, legal challenges centered on Minnesota’s voter identification ballot question must be sorted out and ruled upon. The issue is one being watched closely by members of Minnesota’s disability community, who believe they have much to lose if the amendment is on the ballot and is approved by voters Nov. 2.

If state voters approve voter ID on Nov. 6, Minnesota voters would have to produce valid identification before they could cast ballots. Adoption of voter ID would also change the way voters who register on Election Day would have their votes counted. It would also end the longstanding Election Day practice in which people could vouch for others who live in their precinct, allowing them to vote. Vouching is sometimes used by community members and residential facilities to allow their neighbors to vote.

The latest legal debate, heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court July 31, centered on the actual ballot title language for voter ID and a second ballot question that would restrict marriage. This case is separate from a second case the state’s highest court is deliberating, whether or not the ballot question itself should remain or be removed.

The two Minnesota Supreme Court proceedings have drawn overflow crowds to the Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul. Both were shown live online.

“If the law required a driver’s license or state-issued photo ID with the voter’s current address, that will create barriers for some voters with disabilities,” said Pamela Hoopes of the Minnesota Disability Law Center. “Many people with disabilities who vote do not drive and they may not have a state-issued photo ID with their current address either. To get the underlying documents such as a birth certificate that are required to obtain that ID will be difficult for a voter who lacks access to transportation.”

If Minnesota voters approve the constitutional amendment in November, Hoopes added that the type of barrier the regulation would create depends upon what state lawmakers do in 2013. That is when the Minnesota Legislature would have to pass more legislation, implementing the constitutional amendment itself.

One thing that is known is that voter ID, if adopted in Minnesota, would eliminate vouching. That would also affect many people with disabilities. Low-income people, including some people with disabilities, may move often, so keeping current identification can be a challenge.

“Many voters with disabilities now register to vote and then vote with Election Day registration vouching,” said Hoopes. “Many people with disabilities who live in residential service settings move (their residence) frequently.”

The legal disputes over voter ID are complex. At issue July 31 was who has the power to title ballot amendments, the Secretary of State or the Minnesota Legislature.

After the July 31 court debate, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie released a statement. “I appreciate the Minnesota Supreme Court’s effort to address this separation of powers issue and look forward to their decision and specific instructions,” he said. “As the attorney general’s counsel explained before the court, providing a title for each proposed Constitutional Amendment has been the responsibility of the Minnesota Secretary of State since 1919. Under state statutes no other agency or branch of state government currently has this authority.”

Republican lawmakers were represented by attorney Jordan Lorence of the group Alliance Defending Freedom. He said it is state lawmakers’ authority to choose the titles. Lorence said the state’s executive branch overstepped its boundaries by changing the constitutional amendment ballot title.

State Solicitor General Alan Gilbert disagreed, saying that would contradict decades of constitutional amendments. He said that that state statutes allow Ritchie to choose the ballot question titles. He also pointed out to the court that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed both voter ID and the marriage amendment, which would limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

Justices gave few clues as to how they might rule. Justice Paul Anderson raised the issue of whether the Supreme Court could say “a pox on both houses” and put the full text of the amendments on the ballot. Justice Alan Page, in his comments, also acknowledged that possibility. “These are emotionally charged, politically motivated amendments, and I see an almost unsolvable problem because one side is going say it’s described this way, one side is described the other and I see problems with both descriptions,” Anderson said.

At the July 17 Minnesota Supreme Court hearing, justices and attorneys debated whether the voter ID ballot question itself should remain or be stricken. Arguments on the ballot question lasted for about an hour. Supporters argue that the amendment would reduce cases of voter fraud. Opponents say it isn’t needed and would create barriers for some voters.

The League of Women Voters, American Civil Liberties Union and other groups challenging the voter ID issue, called the ballot question language misleading. A court ruling in favor could either In a third case that could impact voter ID, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank heard arguments June 22 from the Minnesota Voters Alliance and others who want steps taken to determine who is eligible to vote. This group is targeting felons and people deemed ineligible to vote by the state. The issue the plaintiffs are arguing is “vote dilution” from the counting of ballots from persons who are ineligible to vote, and how those voters affect outcome of very close elections. Ritchie and elections officials from Ramsey, Chisago and Crow Wing counties are defendants in the suit. The Minnesota Voters Alliance contends that election officials aren’t doing enough to check voter eligibility; defendants contend that it would place more burdens on election judges. That case also hasn’t been ruled upon.

Writer Clarence Schadegg contributed to this article.

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