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Why I Voted No On Amendment 2 (Voter Restriction)

November 4, 2012

As noted in my previous post, I voted absentee (in-person) for the first time ever*, and was excited to vote no on both amendments on Minnesota’s ballot this year. Much has been written by both sides on both issues the past several months. Here are my thoughts on the second amendment (and again, I’ve tried to keep the legalese to a minimum).

Amendment 2 asks: “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?” However, the actual language of the amendment is this:

(b) All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law.

(c) 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.

To be honest, I had to think a little harder about the voter restriction amendment compared to the marriage discrimination amendment. On its face, it seems simple: you should have to show your ID to vote, to prove who you are. We show ID for many everyday purposes, so why not voting? The problem, as pointed out by the 63 Minnesota newspapers opposed to the Voter Restriction Amendment, is that it’s not so simple. County auditors from all across the state say there are too many unknown costs and consequences.

Currently, MN voters can register at the polls on Election Day. They can do so with a current driver’s license or state ID showing a current address. Or they can show an ID that has an old address — or one with no address at all, such as a passport, military, tribal or student ID — and prove their current address with a recent utility bill. If they don’t have the proper documents, they can be vouched for by a registered voter from their precinct (or an employee of the residential facility where the voter lives; this is how many nursing home residents are able to vote). The voucher must sign an oath.

Under the Voter Restriction Amendment, only a driver’s license or other state ID with a current address will be acceptable (not a passport, or military, student or tribal ID’s, which don’t list an address). Without that, a voter can only cast a provisional ballot, and then they have to prove their identity and eligibility to vote within a certain time frame after the election. We don’t currently have a provisional balloting system, so precincts (and taxpayers) will have to pay for additional election judges and provisional ballot boxes, plus whatever systems will be required to check ID’s and process the separate ballots. Nobody can agree on the cost because there are too many unknowns regarding the legislation that might be passed to enforce and fund the amendment. But what we do know (per a recent court ruling) is that it will substantially change same-day registration, it will be expensive (proponents of the amendment estimate it will cost up to $63.6 million at the local level; opponents argue it could go much higher), and it will require supervision by the Department of Justice under the Help America Vote Act.

Regardless of how you feel about the unknown local costs, and as noted in my post on the marriage discrimination amendment, the Constitution is supposed to protect our freedoms. We shouldn’t be using it to restrict anyone’s right to vote in this manner. How many voters will be affected depends on the enabling legislation (lawyer-speak for the laws they’ll have to pass to put the amendment into effect). But for those who cannot afford the documents required to get a free ID, or who cannot (due to disability, or transportation/financial problems) get to the DMV or vital records offices, they could be entirely deprived of their right to vote. Domestic violence victims, disaster victims, college students and the elderly could also be affected. So could veterans and active-duty military personnel (and their families), and other absentee voters. Read the amendment closely, and you’ll see that absentee voters have to provide “substantially equivalent” verification of identification as in-person voters. How is that even possible, especially for the disabled and for anyone living overseas? We have no answers, so we shouldn’t support this amendment.

This expensive, ambiguous new voter system would be the exact opposite of our current system that encourages same-day registration and high voter participation. Please vote no on both amendments on November 6th. It’s the Minnesotan thing to do.

[*I voted absentee because I will be serving as a volunteer attorney on Election Day.]

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