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Voters to decide photo ID question on Nov. 6

ST. PAUL - Now it's up to the voters.

Minnesotans will decide on Nov. 6 whether showing photographic identification before casting ballots should be required.

The Legislature approved the Republican-backed constitutional amendment proposal Wednesday, the Senate 35-29 and the House 72-57. The vote fell along party lines other than Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona's "no" vote.

"The voters in the state of Minnesota have the opportunity to decide whether or not they agree with us," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, author of the bill.

The question on the ballot to voters will be: "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?"

Those backing the bill said the requirement would protect against voter fraud and improve the state's elections.

"It will restore confidence in the integrity of the system," Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said.

"We're trying to create the message that when you vote, your vote counts," added Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo.

Opponents raised a number of concerns, including that the requirement could make it difficult for many to vote, especially the elderly, disabled, minorities and students.

"The only thing this amendment can possibly accomplish is to deny an eligible voter the right to vote," Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

They also were concerned about the cost of implementation and enforcement and the elimination of same-day registration. The proposed amendment would create provisional balloting, which allows people without an ID to vote, but return to a clerk's office within a set time period to show proper identification.

Democratic Sens. Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids and Tony Lourey of Kerrick also wondered about the amendment's effect on mail-in ballots, common in rural areas.

"It is absolutely unclear what that is going to look like," Lourey said.

Too many questions remain unanswered, Democrats said.

"The practical implications of this are what really get messy," Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said.

Republicans pointed out that if voters approve the amendment, the next Legislature would hammer out the specifics of the process and discussions on details could continue then. The ID requirement would go into effect starting with the Nov. 5, 2013, election.

Opponents could attempt to derail the amendment in court.

The governor is not officially involved in constitutional amendments, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he opposes it and vetoed a similar piece of legislation last year. He said he was disappointed the efforts were not collaborative and dismissed claims that voter fraud is a problem in Minnesota.

"We have the highest voter turnout year after year and under intense, bipartisan scrutiny, the recent statewide recounts have highlighted how reliable the results are," he said.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, another Democrat, also opposes the amendment.

When the House and Senate versions of the bill were combined, Sen. John Howe's addition of the words "or equivalent" to the photo ID requirement was removed, among other changes. He had said that would make it easier to keep up with technology changes.

The Red Wing Republican said Wednesday he would "respect the process" and voted in favor of the bill.

Danielle Nordine reports for Forum Communications Co.