Voter ID Issue Causing Debates

One of the biggest battles shaping up during the Minnesota Legislature’s 2012 session centers on proposals to require voters to produce identification at the polls. For many people with disabilities, requiring ID to be shown before a vote is cast is seen as a barrier to voting.

Voter identification was a flashpoint during the 2011 legislative session, with support from House and Senate Republicans and opposition from Democrats. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the voter ID bill in May 2011. That renewed supporters’ efforts for a constitutional amendment. Forcing voter ID through that method would require putting a question on the ballot, possibly as soon as this fall.

Under current state law, registered voters don’t have to produce identification when voting. Voters sign a roster book at the polling place. Signing in and voting as someone else is a felony. Nine states require voter identification and several other states are considering similar measures. Advocates contend voter ID is needed to prevent voter fraud, and that it would not be a costly program to implement.

Foes, organized as Protect the Vote, have been meeting to discuss the prospect of voter ID. Several disability advocacy groups are part of the coalition. One concern is that there won’t be time to mount an effective campaign during a short legislative session, or to get the word out before the November election.

The 2011 voter ID bill not only would require registered voters to show Minnesota photo identification to vote, it also would eliminate vouching as a method for Election Day registration. Through vouching,

a person can register to vote if he or she brings a registered voter from the precinct to vouch for him as a precinct resident. Otherwise voters who register on Election Day must bring specified ID to register.

In response to the argument about costs, supporters say Minnesota would offer free voter ID cards. But the costs of the cards, as well as an estimated $2.8 million public education campaign, have been raised as red flags.

The bill introduced in 2011 by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, RBig Lake, and former Minnesota Secretary of State had a $60 million price tag at first but various amendments reduced the costs to $5 million.

One expensive aspect of the bill called for all precincts to have ID scanning machines; that was quickly dropped. The proposed legislation would also have created a new system of provisional balloting, in which challenged ballots would not be not counted until voters can supply proper identification. One group speaking out against voter ID is The Arc Minnesota. Leaders said that the proposal will restrict the right of people with disabilities to vote.

“Voter ID would suppress voting among many eligible Minnesota voters, including people with disabilities,” said Steve Larson, The Arc Minnesota’s Senior Policy Director. “Should this measure be put into our state constitution, it would affect 27,000 people with disabilities. This would mean that a population equal to all the residents of Fridley, or all those living in LeSueur County would face a roadblock to exercising their right to vote.”

“Voting gives all of us a voice in deciding who are leaders are and how our city, state and nation are run,” said Hunter Sargent, past board member of The Arc Minnesota and The Arc Greater Twin Cities.

“As a person with a disability, I know what it’s like to feel that you don’t have a voice and aren’t being heard. A voter ID bill could take away the voice that many people with disabilities now have.”

“We shouldn’t be putting up barriers that keep people with disabilities from being full members of our community,” Larson said. “They have fought for decades to come out of the shadows of our society. Let’s not pass legislation that makes them less than full participants in our cities and towns.”

For more information on the voter id issues, check www.wewantvoterid.com to read why there is support for the measure. The website for www.thearcminnesota.org contains a fact sheet against voter id. Also look at the League of Women Voters website, at www.lvwmn.org, for more arguments against voter ID.