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Photo ID needed at the polls

The recent revelation in the news that dozens, if not hundreds, of felons voted in the 2008 election points to one fact: Minnesota should institute a photo ID requirement for voting.

What is remarkable about this story is that a private organization, Minnesota Majority, had to do all the legwork, at its own expense, and yet the organization persevered to discover the dirty truth, while Secretary of State Mark Ritchie stonewalled, cast aspersions on these concerned citizens, and pointed fingers at other officials.

But let's be clear: On the front end of the process, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the court system are doing their jobs by identifying felons and relaying that information to Ritchie so he can make sure the voter rolls are up-to-date and do not include people who are ineligible to vote.

On the other end of the process, as the recent news story indicated, the county attorneys are also doing their jobs by prosecuting felons who are detected.

The problem is in the middle: The secretary of state has failed Minnesota by allowing felons to cast ballots and thereby effectively stealing the votes of legitimate voters.

It is not good enough to try to detect illegitimate voters after the fact. By then, the damage is done, because a secret ballot cannot be retrieved from the ballot box once it is cast.

Election technology called an "electronic poll book" now exists, and is being used in other states, that would allow for quick detection of an ineligible voter trying to get a ballot. Such technology relies on interface with driver's license or state-issued photo ID.

Yet Ritchie's out-of-the-mainstream, anti-photo-ID view has left Minnesota with an outdated voting system that has allowed miscreants to taint our elections. We are lagging behind other states because of our antiquated laws against requiring photo ID.

This technology is not all that expensive and would actually save a great deal of local tax money in terms of resources spent on election administration, on investigation and prosecution illegitimate voters after the fact, and more.

This technology is not all that extraordinary. It is similar to card-reader technology that Minnesotans are accustomed to seeing when they go to purchase fishing and hunting licenses.

In addition to allowing poll workers to identify who is eligible to vote, the combination of requiring photo ID and installing this new technology would provide other amazing benefits, as well.

A swipe of a photo ID through an electronic poll book could fill in the data fields in the state's voter registration system, thereby eliminating common data-entry mistakes that take place with the current pen-and-paper registration system. A swipe of a photo ID at the sign-in table in the polling place on Election Day would eliminate the need to line up by parts of the alphabet, would eliminate the need for voters to say their names aloud to the poll workers at check-in, would conserve thousands of pounds of paper currently used to print voter rosters in every election, and would greatly speed up the lines in the polling places. It would also eliminate the need for post-Election Day data entry of voter participation history, which after the 2008 election took several months and cost county governments tens of thousands of dollars to complete. Same-day voter registration would be so fast it would make your head spin.

Opponents of election reform often try to claim that having to produce a photo ID at the polls constitutes an unbearable burden. Certainly Minnesota lawmakers are clever enough to find ways to eliminate potential barriers that an exceedingly small percentage of citizens who want to vote might have in producing a photo ID.

Instituting a photo ID requirement for accessing a ballot in Minnesota is an obviously needed reform, as the recent felon-voting revelation shows. Moreover, in poll after poll, the overwhelming majority of people support this measure, including 71 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 86 percent of Republicans polled by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 2006.

This reform is not just popular, it just makes sense.

Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, is a member of the Minnesota House and is running for secretary of state as a Republican.