Voter ID awaits legal decisions

As the Nov. 6 election nears, the fate of a proposed ballot question on photo ID is still unclear. So is a demand that state election officials do more to make sure that persons ineligible to vote are turned away from the polls. Both pending court actions could have a significant impact on people with disabilities and their rights to vote.

The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the ballot amendment on July 17 as it weighs a challenge to the language of the proposed photo ID constitutional amendment. Supporters contend that the amendment, if adopted by the voters, would reduce cases of voter fraud. Opponents say it isn’t needed and would create barriers for some voters, including voters with disabilities.

State lawmakers approved the ballot amendment in May before the 2012 Minnesota Legislature adjourned. The proposed ballot question states, “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?” The League of Women Voters (LWV) is challenging the ballot question language, calling it misleading.

Attorneys for the Minnesota Legislature disagree and argue that lawmakers have “very broad and exclusive discretion” to prepare ballot amendments. A court ruling in the LWV’s favor could either change the proposed ballot language or even drop it from the November ballot. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie told Chief Justice Lorie Gildea that state election officials need a final decision by Aug. 27, if not by Aug. 21.The Aug. 27 date is key because that is when Minnesota counties take the primary election results and incorporate them into the November ballots.

In a second 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 “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,

In the hearing Frank asked several questions about state law and disability issues including guardianship, whether a person is too incapacitated or not competent to vote and various Constitutional issues. What has alarmed many disability rights advocates is that affidavits filed in the case include objections to group home residents and people with disabilities voting. The affidavits describe incidents dating back to 2006.

One parent filed an objection to her son voting with staff from his group home, even though he has not had his right to vote legally taken away. Other affidavits were filed by election officials and candidates for office. Those filing affidavits said they believe voters with disabilities were being unfairly influenced as to whom to vote for. The affidavits describe “large and disorganized” groups and people talking to voters in a “child-like manner.”

Under state election law, voters can bring a helper to the polls. Helpers can assist but they cannot influence the voter. Or a voter can ask for help from election judges, two from different parties.

In her affidavit, Harris election judge Alissa Rossini stated: “I was furious about this because I knew that these people were being used to cancel out my vote and the vote of other LEGITIMATE voters. It really angered me that the person who was elected to protect the integrity of the election process didn’t seem at all concerned about the fraud that I was reporting, leaving me completely unable to do anything to stop it. If this wasn’t blatant enough to stop, what would be? I took an oath that day to do my part in ensuring integrity in the process, and I was trying my hardest to do so, but my biggest obstacle was that there was no REAL method for preventing it.”

Frank has yet to issue his ruling in the case. He has indicated he will rule within the next two months.