Keith Ellison on voter ID approval: "Today is a sad day for democracy"

Yesterday, the state Senate Local Government and Elections Committee approved a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment in a party-line 8-6 vote.

The amendment now goes before another committee before coming before the whole Senate. A companion bill in the House has not yet been scheduled for committee hearing.

Though polls show a vast majority of Minnesotans favor requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was so outraged to see the amendment win its first legislative victory that he issued a harshly worded statement following yesterday's committee vote. Here's what he said, in part:

Today is a sad day for democracy. Earlier this afternoon, Republicans voted to turn our constitutional right to vote into a privilege. Minnesotans should be outraged...

... When it comes to civic participation, our nation has always moved in the director of greater inclusion. We need to keep that tradition going, and a photo ID amendment would do nothing but restrict Minnesotans' constitutional right to vote.

Keith Ellison on voter ID approval: "Today is a sad day for democracy"
Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, sponsors the voter ID amendment in the Senate.

Voter ID legislation won approval in both the House and Senate last year, but the bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. With a constitutional amendment, supporters of the bill -- mainly Republicans -- can bypass the governor.

The amendment, of course, is aimed at eliminating voter fraud. Bill sponsor Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said during yesterday's hearing that he does "think we have voter fraud here in Minnesota."

But others question whether voter fraud is a significant enough problem to justify spending an as-of-yet-undetermined amount of money to issue ID cards to eligible voters without driver's licenses. The state would presumably also have to pay for staff to check IDs on election day and the 10 days afterward. (If you forget your ID when voting, the bill allows you to cast a provisional ballot, but you'd have to show proof of identification within 10 days in order for your ballot to count.)

MPR found that roughly 113 people were convicted of voter fraud following Minnesota's 2008 general election. That's less than 1 percent of the roughly 2.9 million Minnesotans who voted.

The Minnesota Secretary of State's Office estimates the proposal would be a problem for about 215,000 current voters, primarily the elderly, disabled, students, and military personal -- all groups less likely to have a valid form of photo ID than a typical citizen.

John Harrington, D-St. Paul, characterized Republicans' voter ID drive as a solution in search of a problem.

"We're talking a microscopic number that could be charged, and I really urge you to seriously think about this," he said. "Why are we doing this? What is the need? What is the problem we're trying to solve?"

But Republicans, contra the evidence, seem to think voter fraud is a serious problem. And with 80 percent of Minnesotans favoring a photo ID requirement as of last May, the amendment's growing momentum in the Republican-controlled legislature means it's likely that Minnesota will join 33 other states in adopting some form of voter ID requirement this November.

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