Opposition says Legislature should revisit bill; Constitutional amendment is costly
BY KATY ZILLMER
Two weeks before Election Day, the Hennepin County Board issued preliminary approval of a resolution that states it is opposed to the Photo Identification Constitutional Amendment. County Board Chair Mike Opat proposed the resolution at the Intergovernmental Committee meeting on Oct. 23.
Opat and Commissioners Gail Dorfman, Jan Callison and Peter McLaughlin voted in favor of the resolution while Jeff Johnson cast the only “no” vote. Commissioner Randy Johnson abstained from the vote.
The board was scheduled to make its final vote on the resolution at the Tuesday Oct. 30, meeting.
Opat said he proposed the resolution against the amendment because the ballot question is misleading and because of the costs associated with implementing the changes if it passes.
“I felt that it’s important for us, as Minnesota’s largest local government, to take a position on this and I think our position should be to oppose the amendment and encourage people to vote no,” Opat said.
The question that will be posed to voters on Election Day reads, “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?”
Opat said the proposed amendment is not in the best interest of Hennepin County.
“Only after wading through both sides of this issue were we prepared to act on the proposed amendment,” Opat said. “From our point of view, this ballot question is misleading and would lead to a more restrictive and costly election system – while solving no real problem,” he said.
Commissioners who oppose the proposed amendment questioned its effect on Election Day voter registration and absentee ballots as well as what will define a “government issued” ID.
“We have a system that works really well, that has integrity,” said Commissioner Gail Dorfman. “We have penalties in place for voter fraud … and the language on the ballot, the way it would be implemented if passed, is confusing. Nobody really knows how that would happen; nobody knows how much it would cost. And it goes against our right as citizens in this country to vote, so it makes no sense,” she said.
The board also discussed the potential cost to taxpayers – millions of dollars – for programs Hennepin County will have to implement if the proposed amendment passes.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk on this board about cost effectiveness of our actions and that programs should be evaluated and policies should be evaluated for cost effectiveness,” McLaughlin said.
“This one doesn’t pass any kind of cost effectiveness test,” he said of the proposed amendment. “It will be spending millions of dollars across the state of Minnesota to solve a problem that isn’t there.”
No problem to fix
According to the proposed amendment, voters need a valid government issued ID before receiving a ballot or they must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot, which commissioners said they also have questions about.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said more than 500,000 people registered to vote on Election Day in 2008.
“There is great concern by county attorneys and election officials about what happens to Election Day registration if in fact this Constitutional Amendment is passed,” Freeman said. “The kind of scrutiny that is done by registration prior to election and requiring a photo ID would make it very difficult for Election Day registration as we know it to be done,” Freeman said.
“The Constitution guarantees rights, it doesn’t restrict them,” Freeman added. “This amendment, if passed, would profoundly impact seniors, veterans and nursing homes, people voting overseas. We don’t know how those people would vote,” he said.
Freeman also argued that the proposed amendment would do little to address voter fraud, such as when a person votes twice by going to different precincts or signs an absentee ballot on behalf of someone else.
In the past several elections he has worked through in Hennepin County, Freeman said there has never been a voter impersonation case – which is the only kind that could be addressed with a voter ID law.
If there were to be changes to the state’s voting systems, the majority of the board felt it should return to the Legislature during the next session.
The Legislature passed a voter ID law in 2011 to prevent voter fraud, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson said he favored that bill and the proposed amendment to the Constitution now, but not the action of the county board to issue an opinion before the election.
“In my time here, we’ve never told constituents how to vote on something,” he said. “I recognize this is different because it could cost money and there are possibly unfunded mandates, but that still doesn’t convince me we should be in the business of instructing our residents how to vote.”
And he said the proposed amendment addresses the public’s concerns about voter fraud and brings Minnesota’s system together with that of other states.
“I think that the amendment before us, and frankly I think the bill that passed that was vetoed is common sense election reform. And it brings Minnesota in line with the majority of other states in this country,” Johnson said.
He added that Minnesota is one of only two states with a voucher system for voters.
“We may not believe that anybody would ever lie but there is certainly a perception that our system has fraud and I think that perception is important,” Johnson said.
“I don’t think we have a bad voting system in Minnesota, but we have one of the loosest based on vouching rules,” he said.
Commissioner Opat responded that the board’s resolution opposing the proposed amendment is to educate voters.
“I’ll allow the system isn’t perfect, it’s one thing to reassess vouching than to require everyone to have a photo ID and set in place what will be nothing short of a huge process,” Opat said.
Overall, Commissioner Callison said she felt the intent of the proposed amendment is to preserve the integrity of the election systems, but that it will affect people’s right to vote.
“I assume that everybody on both sides of this issues wants to have election systems that are full of integrity and fair and that we can be proud of,” Callison said.
“My concerns are more philosophical. The first is that we have the right to vote, it’s not government’s gift to us,” she said. “I don’t believe this sort of change belongs in the Constitution.”