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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published November 02 2012

Lawmakers must fill in blanks if Minnesota voters OK voter ID

ST. PAUL – Both sides in Minnesota’s voter photo identification debate try to paint pictures about how life would look if the requirement passes Tuesday, but the real picture has yet to be painted.

If voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, state legislators will take the brush to canvass next year to provide a detailed picture.

Even before that picture is on display, those taking sides on the issue are saying how they think things would look in a voter ID world.

For instance, cost estimates to implement voter ID requirements range from a few million dollars to more than $100 million.

What legislators decide next year would determine the actual cost.

Voter ID opponent Take Action Minnesota claims that if voters must produce a photo ID before casting a ballot, it “would stop students, people with housing instability, communities of color, people with disabilities, rural Minnesotans, older Minnesotans, active-duty service members and veterans from having a voice in our democracy.”

Protect My Vote, which backs voter ID, assures voters: “If your driver’s license has an old address on it, you’ll still be able to use it to vote as long as you can also bring a utility bill, lease agreement, pay stub or other evidence of your new address.”

However, the proposed constitutional amendment on Minnesota’s Nov. 6 ballot does not include specifics to back any such claims, lawmakers on both sides say. Decisions about how to implement the amendment, if it passes, would come in next year’s Minnesota legislative session or by the courts. Those decisions would shape voter ID.

“Constitutional amendments are just broad brush strokes of public policy,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the Senate author of the plan. “There is nothing unusual here.”

Among the issues to be determined would be specifically what government-issued IDs would be accepted for voting, how to handle ballots of people who show up at polling places without an ID, how people sending absentee and mail-in ballots can be treated “substantially equivalent” to in-person voters, what the state would do to provide free IDs to people and where to get money to fund the program.

While the Legislature is supposed to deal with such questions if the amendment passes, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said there is a high likelihood that the courts will be involved.

“One thing we know is the people who support voter ID and those who oppose voter ID are willing to go to court in order to have their view of the world enforced,” Winkler said.

Newman agreed that there is a good possibility of lawsuits, but said that specifics coming out of the Legislature would need to be a compromise, which could lessen chances of a court case.

Last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill to establish a voter ID requirement in law. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it.

So this year, the GOP, with little Democratic support, passed the proposed constitutional amendment to establish a voter ID requirement. Proposed amendments go directly from the Legislature to voters, with the governor not officially involved.

But to pass a law providing voter ID details, the Legislature and governor must agree. Dayton insists that any election-related law have significant bipartisan support.

“We have got to put a bill on Gov. Dayton’s desk that he can sign,” Newman said.

The senator said that in an Indiana voter ID case, the U.S. Supreme Court provided some “broad guidelines” of acceptable laws.

However, a voter ID implementation law could look much different if Democrats, who oppose it, take control of the Legislature than if Republicans hold onto the majority in next month’s election.

If the amendment passes, Winkler said, lots of changes would be needed.

“We have pages and pages of election law in state statute and state regulations, and we have 87 counties and umpteen cities with election policies and procedures that they follow,” Winkler said. “If you pass a constitutional amendment, all of those laws, all of those rules, all of those procedures have to follow the constitutional amendment.”

The Democrat said he does not expect court cases to wait until the Legislature acts. He predicted that if the amendment passes, its supporters immediately would ask a court to declare existing absentee ballot, same-day registration and other election laws unconstitutional.

After the Legislature and governor enact new election law, lawsuits are likely.

“It could be messy and drag out for a long time,” Winkler said.

Among issues the Legislature, and perhaps the courts, would need to decide:

Davis is a reporter for Forum Communications.

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