FINALLY, the Information You Needed to Complete Your Ballot

Written by Jeff Johnson on November 1, 2012. Posted in General

County Board Condemns the Voter ID Amendment and Urges County Residents to Vote No

Earlier this week, the Hennepin County Board voted in favor of a resolution introduced by Mike Opat opposing the Photo ID constitutional amendment and urging Hennepin County residents to vote no on the amendment. The resolution passed 4 – 1. I was the “no” vote; Randy Johnson abstained.

I opposed this resolution for two reasons:

First, we as a county board shouldn’t be in the business of telling our constituents how to fill out their ballots. While it probably doesn’t make any practical difference as I doubt any of my constituents were on the edge of their seats waiting to get instructions from the county board about how to vote, it is still a practice we have avoided in the past and should in the future.

We take positions on legislative proposals every year and lobby for what a majority of the board believes is in the best interest of the county. I frequently disagree with those legislative positions, but don’t believe it’s inappropriate for us to take such positions at the legislature. This, however, is quite different. Your county board is telling you how you should vote on Election Day.

The proponents of this resolution argued that we have a particular interest in this issue because it’s possible that a photo ID voting requirement could require the county to spend money. Fair enough. We then ought to be instructing you all who to support for President, U.S. Senate and the state legislature, because the outcomes of each of those elections will certainly affect the county budget down the road.

Again, I’m guessing that no one really cares where we stand on Photo ID, but I still think it’s a little arrogant for us to purport to tell our constituents how to vote.

Second, and much more importantly, I support the Photo ID Constitutional Amendment. Strongly.

I realize the issue has become somewhat of a political football in Minnesota (which is unfortunate, as it has been a more bipartisan issue in other states in the recent past, best evidenced by the recommendation of the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform – co-chaired by Former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker – that all states require photo identification to vote).

Despite the political polarization here in the Northland, the proposal before voters remains a simple, common sense way to ensure that every eligible vote counts.

There were two main arguments upon which opponents of a photo ID requirement relied in our board debate on this issue: That some voters would be disenfranchised based upon their lack of a government-issued photo ID and that there is little or no voter fraud in Minnesota, so no need to change our system.

Regarding disenfranchisement, we all know that most activities of any consequence in our society require a photo ID.  Because of that, almost everyone of voting age already has one.

For the very few who do not have a government-issued voter ID, the amendment specifically requires that the state (not the county or other level of government) provide them a photo ID for free.

Those in opposition to photo ID have raised concerns that there is a small subset of that small subset of people who don’t have photo ID’s for whom even getting a free ID would be difficult. People in a homeless shelter, for example, might not have any documentation whatsoever to show who they are.  Or elderly people might not have a have photo ID (although they need photo ID to see a doctor or obtain a prescription) and might be unable to locate a birth certificate.

Both of those examples above, and many others, were specifically addressed in the photo ID bill that was passed by the legislature in 2011 and vetoed by Governor Dayton.  Under that bill, provisions would have been put in place to make it easy for people even in very difficult circumstances to obtain a free ID.   While that bill did not become law, it would be the logical starting point for negotiations between the legislature and Governor Dayton regarding the logistics of the photo ID requirement.

And that’s the bottom line in response to those concerned that the details (which would be negotiated next year if the amendment passes) might lead to voter suppression: NOTHING will be put in place regarding the logistics of photo ID if the amendment passes unless a majority of the Senate supports it, a majority of the House supports AND Governor Dayton supports it.  I think it’s safe to say that issues regarding “disenfranchisement” of any particular voting bloc will have to be addressed before all parties sign off on the deal.

Consequently, the allegations that a photo ID requirement will somehow suppress the votes of certain people are simply untrue.  They’re being used only as a method to scare people into voting a certain way.

Opponents also argue that a photo ID requirement is a “solution looking for a problem.”  One commissioner during our debate on this issue went so far as to say that people lying about their identity in order to commit voter fraud “simply don’t exist.”

In fact, we do know that voter fraud in Minnesota exists.  We know that there were nearly 200 convictions for felons voting illegally in the 2008 elections in Minnesota.  There were hundreds (possibly thousands) more felons voting in 2008 who were not prosecuted because prosecutors didn’t believe they would succeed in proving knowledge or intent on the part of the felon.  So at the very least, we know hundreds of felons voted illegally in one Minnesota election.

Discovering a felon who voted illegally is difficult, but it’s much easier than discovering someone who simply pretended to be someone else or who created an identity out of thin air or who voted in more than one location or who abused our ridiculously lax vouching system in Minnesota.  We’ll never know how many cases of illegal voting those examples would represent in a given year.

And even if it’s only a few hundred cases in an election, that’s plenty to affect even a statewide race in Minnesota.  We saw firsthand only a  few years ago how close our elections can be in this state.

We do know that voter fraud exists in Minnesota.  We just don’t know how much voter fraud exists.  And we’ll never know because the system we have in place makes it practically impossible to find out.

Many believe that Minnesota has the least secure election system in the country (as we are the ONLY state in America that allows someone to “vouch” for multiple people at a polling place even if they are unregistered and have absolutely nothing to indicate their identity).  Some people are happy with that status and want to keep it that way.  Others of us think we can do better and believe a photo ID requirement is common sense, would bring us in line with most of the rest of the country and would still make it very easy to vote  but just a little harder to cheat.

I won’t  urge you to vote any particular way on Photo ID on your own secret ballot next week, but in the unlikely event that you care, I’m voting “Yes”.

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