ST. PAUL - Republicans held strong through hours of state House debate Tuesday night, maintaining it is critical to shore up Minnesota's election process by requiring votes to present photographic identification.
Representatives voted 72-62 along party lines at 2:14 a.m. today, after more than eight hours of debate, to amend the state Constitution to require a voter photo ID.
A Senate committee today is expected to approve a very similar measure and put it up for a full Senate vote within days, leaving it up to voters to decide on Nov. 6 whether to put the provision into the state Constitution.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat who runs state elections, this morning urged senators to slow the rush to pass the amendment.
"Putting an amendment on the Constitution is serious business that should only be done through a very thoughtful and thorough process. Our state's Constitution is far too important to be amended on a partisan basis," Ritchie said. "Instead of rushing to pass this amendment, they should give due consideration to the non-partisan, cost-effective alternative that would make it simple to visually verify voters without the need to amend the Constitution."
Ritchie said photo ID could end Minnesota's tradition of allowing voters to register on election day because the proposed constitutional amendment would force voters to cast "provisional ballots" that would not be counted until they produce an ID sometime after election day. Ritchie has proposed a photo ID alternative, using electronic poll books that he says would identify voters without the hassle of forcing them to produce an ID.
Republican supporters of the amendment did not accept Ritchie's arguments before the marathon debate and rejected a Democratic-Farmer-Laborite attempt to amend the bill to include Ritchie's proposal.
"Right now, we have a system that is weak in the area of voter registration," said Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, who spent eight years as secretary of state. "We should have an upfront openness, transparency and honesty."
The Big Lake Republican said voter ID opponents' arguments are wrong when they claim such a requirement would hinder same-day voter registration, military personnel voting, elderly voters, mail balloting and absentee voting.
"Every eligible voter will be able to vote," Kiffmeyer said.
Democrats questioned that, and spent hours picking apart the bill.
Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said the bill "is out to solve a problem that doesn't really exist" after hearing no proof of Minnesota voter fraud.
"For you," he said to Republicans, "it is a vote of no confidence in our election judges."
Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said the Kiffmeyer proposal needs more work: "It has not been brought forth with all the due process it needs."
Very few, if any, cases of voter fraud have been proven, he added.
"It doesn't seem very Minnesotan to me," Falk said of the bill.
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said that amending the Constitution is "a really, really big deal" and Kiffmeyer's proposal would put "policy preferences into the Constitution on a whim because one political party can because they have the votes."
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the plan, but has no role in a constitutional amendment.
Looking ahead to the chance that Democrats retake legislative control, Simon said Republicans are asking for trouble.
"You are starting an arms race I think you will regret," Simon told Republicans, indicating Democrats may try to try the same procedure if they have a governor who does not agree with their ideas.
"If you vote green on this, what you are doing is launching a missile, a missile in the constitutional amendment arms race," Simon said.
Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, joined other Democrats in fearing that the constitutional amendment could hinder voting. But one thing that he said he knew is that "not one more Minnesotan will be eligible to vote."
Voting-related constitutional across the country always have expanded voting, Morrow said, until voter ID arose.
More than 30 other states require voters to present IDs.
Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, said no one ever has been disenfranchised in those states.
Kiffmeyer said details that Democrats demanded during debate will not be spelled out until next year, if the amendment passes in November. She said that constitutional amendments always require future legislative action once they pass.
Opponents said that the constitutional amendment would force election judges to hold onto many ballots until they receive proof of identification of the voter, a process known as provisional balloting.
Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said it looks like all people who register to vote on election day will be forced to cast provisional ballots.
"When you make it harder to vote, you are creating a barrier," Gauthier added.
About 1,500 people in his district do not have valid photo IDs, Gauthier said, because they are poor, elderly and students who do not have driver's licenses.
Requiring a government-issued photo ID did not set well with Persell: "You have to have a stamp of approval from your government."