Photo ID for voting: Protecting against fraud or discouraging the young from voting?

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Secretary of State Mark Ritchie
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is concerned the amendment could lower Minnesota's voter turnout.
“College students might find themselves without the (required) documentation or paperwork. A lot of those people are going to be affected.” -- Laura Fredrick Wang of the League of Women Voters Minnesota

In this fall’s 2012 elections, not only do Minnesotan voters need to vote on political candidates. They need to cast a vote about voting.

A voter identification amendment is going to appear on the Minnesota ballot this fall. If voters approve it, the state constitution will be changed to require that all Minnesota voters in the future provide state-issued photo IDs in order to vote. Right now, people who are pre-registered simply sign the poll book without showing an ID. Others can register at the polls in a variety of ways, including having a registered voter vouch for them.

Opponents say the amendment would dramatically decrease voter turnout, especially among those who move a lot, like young and poor people. Amendment supporters call it the solution to voter fraud in Minnesota.

This is the question that will appear on the ballot:

“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?”

All the voters really have to do here is answer either “Yes” or “No.” Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. One of the main issues surrounding the proposed amendment is that it remains relatively under the radar.

Amendment opponents worry that fewer people will vote

Amendment opponents are concerned that the word isn’t getting out fast enough, and most voters will be uninformed when given the opportunity to vote on the amendment November 6. They also worry that it’s hard for the average person to see why requiring an ID to vote can be a hardship for many people.

“It’s got that bumper sticker appeal to it,” said Laura Fredrick Wang of the League of Women Voters Minnesota. “A lot of senior citizens get to that point in their life where they don’t drive and don’t have a state ID. College students might find themselves without the documentation or paperwork. A lot of those people are going to be affected.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie believes passing the amendment could complicate or even end election-day registration, which allows people to register and vote on election day. Allowing people to register on election day is one reason that Minnesota leads the nation in voter turnout, he said. People like Wang worry that if the amendment passes, voter turnout will dramatically decrease.

Preventing fraud or building barriers?

Amendment supporters worry more about the threat of voter fraud in Minnesota. They point to evidence of vacant addresses used in voter registration and possible double voting. Ritchie and Wang insist that the state’s system has plenty of protections already in place.

After the 2008 election, two groups asked the state’s county attorneys how many cases of voter fraud were reported. No one was convicted of voter impersonation, the survey found. The biggest problem, the county attorneys said, was among felons who were out of prison but still on probation and therefore not allowed to vote. Twenty-six were convicted of voter fraud, which is itself a felony. That’s a tiny number among 2.9 million voters.

Then why do amendment supporters feel photo IDs are necessary? Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, a state legislator and former secretary of state, said that Minnesota’s open voting system makes it susceptible to fraud. “If people don’t have confidence in the process, then they won’t have confidence in the outcome.”

Kiffmeyer spent 11 years as an election judge and said a number of people told her how easy it would be to beat the system and commit voter fraud. She remembers one case when a woman who wasn’t registered and had no identification wanted to vote in a school board election. Kiffmeyer suggested that she go home and get her ID or find someone to vouch for. Instead, the woman left and didn’t return.

“You’d be amazed if you heard how many people show up without anything, thinking they can just vote.”

Provisional ballots mean your vote doesn’t count on Election Day.

One of the most controversial issues surrounding the voter ID amendment is a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots would used when there were questions surrounding a person’s eligibility to vote. Say, for instance, a voter forgot their driver’s license at home. That voter would turn in a provisional ballot, which would not be counted immediately. The voter would have to come back within a week to show their identification to election officials. Then the ballot can be counted. Kiffmeyer said provisional voting makes it a lot more difficult for voter fraud to occur. Ritchie said it will make it far more expensive to run the election system.

He also said that in states that use provisional ballots, 30 percent are never counted because people don’t bother coming back with the required document. That system also delays announcement of election results, he said.

Both sides are raising money and attention to get the word out about this amendment. Opponents have recruited retired politicians like former Gov. Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale to join the Our Vote Our Future campaign, www.ourvoteourfuture.org.

Supporters of the amendment have organized another group – Protect My Vote – to get the word out, www.protectmyvote.com.

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