ST. PAUL - Opponents of requiring photo identifications for voters talked against it for hours Wednesday, knowing their chances of stopping the proposal were slim.
Just four of more than 30 witnesses at a five-hour Minnesota legislative committee meeting spoke in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment, which Republicans who control the Minnesota Legislature back in the name of preventing voter fraud.
The Senate Local Government and Elections Committee took no vote Wednesday night because the meeting lasted so late that some members faced schedule conflicts. The panel is expected to vote in the next few days, and there is little doubt the proposal will pass since Republicans hold a committee majority.
Bill author Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said his desire is to add the photo ID mandate to age, residency and citizenship voting requirements already in the state Constitution.
He called it "an additional measure of integrity."
The amendment would not stop anyone from voting, Newman said. "We have to be fair to all eligible voters, regardless of their station in life."
But Beth Fraser of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office said more than 700,000 Minnesotans could be affected.
More than 215,000 eligible Minnesota voters are not registered to vote, Fraser said, and up to 500,000 register at the polls on election day. She said all could be hindered by the constitutional amendment.
Obtaining a photo ID is "challenging or downright impossible" for some Minnesotans, she said, such as elderly or disabled who live 80 miles away from a driver's license office.
Fraser and local officials also said the amendment would add substantial costs to elections.
Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority said polls show most Minnesotans back a voter photo ID requirement.
He said the state would give one to anyone who does not have a photo ID.
"It is mystifying to me that there are people who think there are armies of ninjas" standing in the way of getting photo IDs, McGrath said.
"We have the loosest election system in the country," he added.
If Minnesota legislators approve the proposal, voters will decide its fate in the Nov. 6 election. Voter photo ID is a priority for Republicans who hold House and Senate majorities.
Wednesday's hearing was the first of several legislative meetings expected on the subject this year. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has no say in whether a constitutional amendment will go on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, questioned whether a photo ID requirement should be enshrined in the Constitution since technology could change to make something like fingerprint recognition a better way to identify people.
Newman countered that a photo is the best current technology.
"I think this will stand the test of time," Newman said.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, wondered if student identifications would be accepted, but Newman said details like that would be worked out by next year's Legislature if voters approve the amendment in November.
Two immigrants, now American citizens, told senators that adding a photo ID requirement would make many in their communities less likely to vote.
Idil Abdull said that she came from a "dictatorship country where we were not allowed to vote," and is happy to be American. But requiring IDs likely would affect the number of voters, she said.
Wearing an American flag lapel pin, Sadik Warfa of the Somali Action Alliance said the amendment gives the opposite message that the state should send: "We want people to be able to vote, not to discourage them from voting. ... This bill is really wrong headed."