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Photo IDs not the answer to felony voting

Counter to Dan Severson's claim that Minnesota should institute a photo ID require-ment for voting in order to prevent felon vote fraud ("Photo ID needed at the polls," July 25), photo IDs would do noth-ing to prevent ex-offenders from voting in error. But this is not the only inaccuracy or half-truth in Severson's com-mentary. And since Severson is a candidate for secretary of state, the top election official in Minnesota, his claims - which are caused either by ig-norance of the state's election system or willful distortion - must be addressed.

First, Severson's assertion that the recent flap about felons who may have voted in 2008 means that Minnesota needs a photo ID requirement for voting is nonsense. The only type of fraud a photo ID requirement could prevent is a voter showing up at the polls claiming to be another registered voter. Voter impersonation simply does not happen, as the thorough examination of our election system in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount showed. But a photo ID requirement certainly would not prevent people serving a felony sentence from voting. If you have a Minnesota driver's license or state ID card, look at it. Does yours indicate anywhere whether or not you have a felony conviction? Claiming that a photo ID requirement would prevent ineligible felons from voting is a smoke screen.

Severson tries to blame the secretary of state for "allowing" felons to vote, but in doing so shows that he does not understand how the election system works. The reality is that all registered voters have records in the statewide Voter Registration System. When a person is convicted of a felony, that information is sent to the secretary of state so that voter's record can be flagged. That way, this voter would be challenged by election judges should they show up to vote on Election Day. The voter's record is not removed from the list. If a person flagged as a felon shows up to vote, he is challenged by the election judges, and takes an oath swearing that they are truly eligible, Minnesota election law says they must be allowed to vote. Election judges or the secretary of state could not turn these voters away even if they wanted to.

If we think about it, we don't want election officials turning away voters in hopes of preventing fraud. How many eligible voters would we turn away to prevent one ineligible voter? As important as voting is, it is not worth risking another felony and you can bet that very few ineligible felons would try to cast a vote intentionally. Our election system already has significant checks in place, both before and after Election Day, to make sure that only eligible voters vote and that ineligible voters are caught.

Severson does have some good ideas about how we could better use technology to streamline the voting process, though none would mean we must bar a person who does not have a photo ID from voting. However, he consistently opposed bills in the Minnesota House to improve the voter registration process and the accuracy of the state database.

In both 2007 and 2009, Severson (along with Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer) voted against bills that would have improved data sharing be-tween state departments to make our voter registration list as complete and accurate as possible. One of the pro-posed changes was allowing the secretary of state to ac-cess Department of Correct- ions data to more accuratu-ely update the voter registra-ution rolls with people con-victed of felonies and people who have completed their sentences. Our system could already be in better shape had Severson not stood in the way.

If Severson really wants to address this problem, a better solution would be for Minne-sota to join the 14 other states that restore a person's right to vote automatically upon their release from prison (or the two states, Maine and Vermont, that never take away a person's right to vote). This change would clear up any confusion; if a person with a felony can walk into the polling place on Election Day, they can vote. These are people whom the criminal justice system has deemed ready to reenter society, and they are asked to find a job, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities in every other way. Initial studies have even shown that voting helps lower recidivism rates by rebuilding an ex-offender's connection to the community.

Severson's attempt to connect this "controversy" about felons voting in 2008 to his desire for a photo ID requirement should be seen for what it is: an opportunistic attempt to elevate an issue he thinks will help him get elected. Don't be fooled. Requiring photo ID will disenfranchise as many as 10 percent of our citizens at significant costs to the taxpayer without addressing any real problems. Does that sound like a wise policy for a statewide candidate to promote?

Dan McGrath is executive director of TakeAction Minnesota.