Wisconsin veteran ID controversy highlights concerns about MN's voter ID amendment

Paar refused to vote after an election judge rejected his veteran ID.
Paar refused to vote after an election judge rejected his veteran ID.

Gil Paar, an elderly veteran living in Racine, Wisconsin, wanted to use his veteran ID card as proof of identification when he tried to cast his ballot in a local school board election this winter. But an election judge shot him down, pointing out that Wisconsin's voter ID law requires voters to have a state-issued ID.

Paar has a driver's license, but was so upset by the snub that he decided not to vote at all.

"Like I say, it's the principle of the thing," he said, according to a report in The Raw Story. The veteran ID "is good enough for everything else, but it amazes me that it's not good enough to use as ID to vote ... it pisses me off."

Shortly after the school board election, Wisconsin's voter ID law was blocked by two separate state appeals courts in Dane County. The courts ruled the law is unconstitutional because it abridged the right to vote.

So if Paar decides to vote in Wisconsin's upcoming recall election, he should again be able to use his veteran ID as proof of identification, despite the fact that he wasn't able to do so just two months ago. And that, says Mike Dean of citizens' lobby Common Cause Minnesota, is exactly why Minnesota's voter ID amendment is such a bad idea.

"The ballot question is going to be litigated for years," Dean said, adding that Common Cause is planning to file a legal challenge against Minnesota's ballot question before the November election.

Minnesota's voter ID amendment doesn't specify whether veteran IDs are an acceptable form of identification -- the ballot question simply states that voters must have "valid identification." If the amendment is approved, the question of what constitutes a valid, government-issued ID -- whether college IDs from state universities count, or tribal IDs -- would be decided by the legislature during the 2013 session.

"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."

In addition to objecting to the question's vagueness, Dean also points out that situations like the one unfolding in Wisconsin -- where the election rules have now changed twice since 2010, with more changes possibly on the horizon -- make election judges' jobs extremely difficult.

"Election judges have to be constantly updated on the rules and regulations, and you're going to see lots of problems," he said. "Wisconsin is a window into the problems we're facing if the ballot question unfortunately passes."

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