Debate ramps up over potential effects of voter ID measure on students

If passed in November, the next Legislature will have to work out the mandate’s details.

by Kevin Burbach


With the state Legislature’s recent passage of the voter ID constitutional amendment, the future voting process for college students rests on many factors.

And while both sides agree it’s too early to tell what the implications of the law would be if it passes on the November ballot, some worry about its affect on students.

If the majority of Minnesota voters vote to mandate valid photo identification at the polls, details of how the amendment will work will be left up to the next Legislature. How it will work will also be dependent upon the makeup of the new Legislature — all 201 state legislators are up for re-election in November.

On Wednesday, the Senate re-passed the bill to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. All DFLers voted against the amendment, and all but one Republican voted in favor.

Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, who represents the University of Minnesota’s district, said she worries about the potential impact on students and same-day registration.

Although proponents of the amendment say that same-day registration will remain, Dziedzic said it’s unclear how it will work for students and may make voting more of a hassle.

The bill would create a new provisional balloting system, in which a voter would be allowed to cast their vote without an ID, but would need to verify their identity to the state afterward.

Dziedzic said that extra step could create another hurdle and decrease student voting.

“It will definitely change the way students vote and might even dissuade some,” said Mitch Menigo, a student member of Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. “It’s another obstacle. It isn’t really necessary.”

In the voting precinct that includes the Superblock area, 86 percent of voters in the 2010 election were new registrants, according to data from the Secretary of State.

Dziedzic also said students tend to move around frequently and requiring an ID that contains their current address could be troublesome. It’s unclear whether the voter ID law would require an ID with a current address.

Doug Chapin, a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said if the amendment passes, it could be tricky to determine what IDs are valid when the Legislature works out the details.

As the amendment is written, voters must show “government-issued photographic identification.” Chapin said that could get complicated if students go to a private college as opposed to a state school.

“Once you get the point where you’re requiring ID, you really get into the weeds of the details of which IDs are going to be accepted and which are not,” Chapin said.

Chapin said voting is already complicated for Minnesota students.

In Minnesota, residents can currently register 21 days before an election, or on Election Day. For students to register on Election Day, they must show one of the following: their student ID if the college has a housing list provided, an ID with a current address, a state-issued ID or student ID and a document demonstrating their residence, like a utility bill or fee statement.

Dan McGrath, executive director for Minnesota Majority, a group that supported voter ID legislation, said he guessed the public versus private school ID distinction wouldn’t be an issue in Minnesota because voters would probably need more than a student ID to show who they are.

James McCann, a professor at Purdue University in Indiana, said a very similar debate about student voting occurred in Indiana. Now that a voter ID requirement is implemented in Indiana, a student from an Indiana state school can use their school ID if it meets certain criteria, but a private school student cannot, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s website.

McGrath guessed that the bill the Legislature passed last session would be a basis for how the amendment would work, if the makeup of the Legislature remained the same. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the legislation last year but couldn’t veto the constitutional amendment.

The voter bill proposed last year included provisions to let students without IDs reflecting their current address to vote. The student’s school would have had to provide a housing list of students living within 10 miles of campus, or the student would have to provide a valid ID and a fee statement with their current address.

If the amendment passes, it will likely face court challenges. The Indiana law went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the court ruled in 2008 that the law requiring ID was not unconstitutional.

Ryan Lyk, chair of the Minnesota College Republicans, said he didn’t see the amendment as a problem for students and dismissed the notion that the amendment would disenfranchise voters.

“No matter what, people have the ability, the opportunity to make sure that they vote,” Lyk said.

Groups on both sides will be ramping up support or opposition to the amendment in the coming months. MPIRG members will be on college campuses campaigning against it, while Minnesota Majority representatives will attempt to rally student support in favor of the amendment.