Voter ID amendment officially heads to November ballot

After re-passing in the Senate and House this week, voters will decide whether people should be required to show photo identification at the polls.

John Hageman

The Minnesota Senate passed the contentious voter ID bill Wednesday 35-29, ensuring that the constitutional amendment question will go before voters in November.

The House re-passed the bill early Wednesday morning after both chambers passed their respective versions of the bill last month. The House and Senate needed to re-pass the amendment after a conference committee cleared up language differences between the two bills Monday.

On Nov. 6, voters will weigh in on the 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?”

If approved by a majority of voters, people will be required to show photo identification at the polls in order to vote. Because the amendment leaves some technical aspects unanswered, it will be up to the next Legislature to determine how to implement the change.

Pennsylvania became the 16th state to pass a law requiring a photo ID at the polls when Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill March 14. Besides Minnesota and Pennsylvania, 12 other states this year tried or are trying to pass a similar requirement, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Debate on the Senate floor lasted for more than three hours Wednesday. Just one Republican, Jeremy Miller of Winona, joined all DFLers in voting against the measure.

During floor debate Wednesday, DFLers echoed many of the same arguments they’ve brought up through the committee process. Several said that students, along with soldiers overseas, the elderly, homeless and disabled will be disenfranchised.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said students who move from their dorm mid-semester or list their permanent address as their parent’s will have a difficult time voting.

“I think the bottom line is that we all know that this bill will disenfranchise people,” he said.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, proposed sending the bill back to conference committee partly because language about “equivalent” identification, which was passed 63-3 by the Senate the first time around, had been taken out by the time it came back Wednesday. That motion failed.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, added the “equivalent” amendment to the bill when the Senate originally passed it March 23, which would allow future legislators to consider new technologies. But bill sponsor Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said that provision adds too much ambiguity to the state constitution.

Although it doesn’t contain his amendment, Howe voted in favor of the measure.

Other DFLers were opposed to the idea of adding what they see as policy changes to the state constitution.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said if problems come up with the requirement, legislators will have to pose another constitutional amendment to voters to make a change.

“Does that really make any sense?” he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who opposes the requirement, cannot veto a constitutional amendment, as he did to similar legislation last year.

“I cannot support a constitutional amendment that is pushed through the legislative process by only one political party — and neither should Minnesotans if they see it on the ballot this fall,” Dayton said in a statement Wednesday.

The voter ID question will appear alongside a question of whether to ban same-sex marriage on the Nov. 6 ballot. They will be 10th and 11th constitutional amendments on the ballot in Minnesota since 1990. Of those, only one — a 1994 amendment to allow off-track betting on horse races — was voted down by Minnesotans, according to the Secretary of State.

If a majority of Minnesotans approve the amendment, the state would join Mississippi to become the second state with a photo ID requirement passed via constitutional amendment.

A Missouri judge struck down a voter ID amendment passed by state lawmakers last year. The Missouri Legislature is currently working on a new constitutional amendment.