A controversial voter photo ID amendment will be put on the ballot in Minnesota in November after Republicans in the Legislature voted to do so last Wednesday. The Legislature’s move bypasses Gov. Mark Dayton, who vetoed a similar voter ID bill last year, and puts the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution directly in the hands of voters. The vote puts Minnesota, and its harshly partisan Legislature, in the middle of a national movement by Republican-controlled state legislatures to enact more restrictive voter ID laws across the country.
Though the Republicans in the Senate failed to bring up any evidence that fraudulent voting was a problem in Minnesota, passing this photo ID requirement has been a top priority for Republican lawmakers in order to combat voter fraud. Though voter fraud is hard to measure, there are only a handful of cases of fraud convictions each year nationally, and even amongst these cases, most are instances of improper registration or ineligibility, not intentional fraud. These numbers seem to be a reflection of the severe punishment for voter fraud; under federal law, perpetrators face up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 for each act of fraud.
There is more evidence that stricter ID laws, similar to the one that voters will decide on in November, will disenfranchise voters rather than stop fraud to get a more accurate election. According to George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton, a former member of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, “a photo ID requirement would prevent over 1,000 legitimate votes for every single improper vote prevented.”
People will lose their ability to vote for a number of reasons. One is the cost of having the proper documentation. Many states require at least four original forms of identification to obtain a photo ID — documents such as a certified birth certificate, marriage or divorce record, adoption record, a Social Security card or naturalization papers. A birth certificate in Texas, for example, costs $22; a U.S. passport costs as much as $145 and naturalization papers can run up to $200. People born out of state who lack transportation, work multiple jobs, have disabilities, are home-bound or poor might not be able to access or afford this paperwork. Even worse, the amendment, if passed, would be an unfunded mandate — it would be up to Dayton to find the money, an estimated $23 million to cover the costs of enforcing the bill. This would come at a time where the state government still owes Minnesota schools more than $2.1 billion.
Other ways include the potential loss of same-day voter registration. Minnesota is one of the few states left that allows same-day voter registration, which college students commonly use since they often move each year for school and lose track of where and when they have to be registered. Removing this way to register has the ability to thwart hundreds of people, mainly younger voters who only recently became eligible to vote, from making their way to the polls. One only has to bring up what happened in Florida during the 2000 election to imagine how disenfranchising a few thousand voters can have extreme effects on the outcome of an election, even on a much larger scale.
Also, as much as these laws attempt to create a more uniform national voting law, since over 30 states have adopted similar voter ID legislation, voting laws fail to affect everyone equally. State photo ID restrictions disproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos, young voters, people more than 65 years old and people with disabilities.
Studies by the Advancement Project show that 11 percent of eligible voters, or about 21 million people, don’t have updated, state-issued photo IDs: 25 percent of African-Americans, 15 percent of those earning less than $35,000, 18 percent of citizens age 65 or older and 20 percent of voters age 18 to 29.
Just across the state border, Wisconsin has some of the strictest voter laws in the nation and a huge problem with disenfranchised African-American voters: 55 percent of African-American men and 49 percent of African-American women lack state identification. Without evidence of real cases of voter fraud, at least in sizable numbers, the GOP seems to be only trying to disenfranchise voters, possibly for political gain, rather than seeking a more accurate election process. “This is just voter suppression; they dress it up in a pretty gown and put lipstick on it, but it is voter suppression,” said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.
The Minnesota voter ID amendment is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Evidence shows that it only makes the election process more inaccurate and murkier and that it is designed to eliminate some people from taking part in their civic duty. If anything, the amendment is a reflection of a heavily partisan, polarized Legislature — one that does not have the well-being of Minnesota’s voters in mind.