MNGOP leaders approve use of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend voter ID amendment


Lawmakers have Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson at their disposal to defend lawsuits against approved legislation, but in the case of the voter ID amendment, MNGOP leaders don't trust the left-leaning duo to do a satisfactory job.

As a result, the Legislative Coordination Commission -- made of up legislative leaders of both parties, with more Republicans than Democrats -- voted along party lines yesterday to use $18,000 of taxpayer money and hire outside attorneys to defend voter ID against a pending lawsuit. An attorney with House Research told the Pioneer Press that as far as he knows, this is the first time the legislature has moved to intervene in a lawsuit.

Said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis: "I don't think it makes sense for the legislature to actually intervene for the first time and spend taxpayer dollars to defend this, when somebody else [i.e. Ritchie and Swanson] is already going to be doing that same work."

A lawsuit filed May 30 by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, League of Women Voters Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, and Common Cause Minnesota makes a case that the voter ID ballot language passed by lawmakers this spring is vague and misleading. The lawsuit asks the Supreme Court to prevent the proposed constitutional amendment from reaching voters in November.

The ballot language asks voters, "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?" It doesn't say anything anything about what constitutes a valid, government-issued ID -- that question would be decided by the legislature during the 2013 session.

And that's exactly the program, said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause, during an April interview with City Pages.

"It's deceptive and misleading," Dean said, speaking of Minnesota's ballot question. "We don't know what sort of ID system we're going to have, so voters don't know what they're passing."

Zellers and other MNGOP leaders are concerned Swanson and Ritchie don't have their interests at heart.
Zellers and other MNGOP leaders are concerned Swanson and Ritchie don't have their interests at heart.

But Republicans, of course, are going to do all they can to keep the question on the ballot. After the May 30 lawsuit was filed, MNGOP leaders expressed concern that Ritchie and Swanson will "vigorously defend" the state in the suit. Both Ritchie and Swanson are Democrats and oppose the voter ID question.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, opaquely referred to concerns about Ritchie and Swanson in explaining why the MNGOP felt compelled to hire Minneapolis-based Winthrop & Weinstine to defend voter ID.

"Whether it's us in the majority, whether it's the Democrats in the majority, the legislature's authority does have to be affirmed," Zellers said.

Funds to pay Winthrop & Weinstine will come from salary savings created after the Legislative Coordinating Commission instituted a hiring freeze, the Star Tribune reports.

More recent voter ID coverage:
-- Wisconsin veteran ID controversy highlights concerns about MN's voter ID amendment
-- New York Times on MN voter ID amendment: Solution to a "virtually non-existent problem"
-- Voter ID amendment approved by legislature, on ballot this November

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