Jonathan Maurer-Jones, Photo ID: Taking Away Our Right to Vote

Requiring a photo ID to vote might sound like common sense.  But it’s a terrible idea for Minnesota’s nationally-lauded election system.  Here’s why.

Two bills are moving through the Minnesota legislature right now that would require every voter to show a government-issued photo ID before being given a ballot.  Both bills would radically change our state’s nation-leading election system, and both would roll the clock back for Minnesota voters, recalling the days when women, persons of color, and those without property couldn’t vote. And with Minnesota mired in a battle to close a $5 billion budget gap, these bills would cost the state and local governments millions of additional dollars to implement.  At the same time, critical programs people depend on, such as health care and public schools, are facing deep and harmful cuts.

Harmful Barriers That Move Minnesota Backwards

The primary problem with these photo ID bills is that they create new barriers that will take away the right to vote from a significant chunk of voters.  These include seniors, people with disabilities, college students, people of color, low-income people, overseas military, rural Minnesotans, and people without housing.

The central idea of both HF 89 and HF 210 is requiring everyone who shows up to vote on Election Day to present an election judge with a photo ID before being given a ballot.  Both bills lay out a narrow list of photo IDs that would be considered valid.  If voters cannot show one of these forms of state-approved photo IDs, they would be forced to vote on a second-class provisional ballot.  This provisional ballot would be counted in election results only if, within five days after the election, that voter is able to go back and find, or obtain, an acceptable ID and show it at a county elections office.  Either bill would give Minnesota the most restrictive photo ID law in the country.

Radicals In Search of a Problem That Doesn’t Exist

The photo ID bills dramatically overhaul Minnesota’s excellent election system to solve no apparent problem.  During the last weeks of the general election last fall, a group pushing for voter ID, and led by Minnesota Majority, worked feverishly to drum up media attention around their invented case of voter fraud in order to intimidate and scare voters away from the polls.  Their efforts included Capitol press conferences and paid ads at bus stops in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester offering cash rewards to anyone who could turn in voters committing fraud.  The result?  No press conferences or news of anyone who committed fraud or persons paid reward money. Minnesota Majority should know as well as anyone that there is no problem with fraud.  If there were, they would have trumpeted their findings statewide.

The reality is that this push for voter ID is driven by a few groups committed to instituting radical changes that would prevent many in our state from having a say in how our government is run.  Visiting their central hub, www.WeWantVoterID.com, one can see who is behind the effort.  The site lists its supporters as Minnesota Majority, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, the Minnesota Freedom Council, the Minnesota North Star Tea Party Patriots, and “various other Tea Party groups.”

Roadblocking Up To 200,000 Minnesotans From Voting

These supporters of voter ID claim that 99 percent of Minnesotans already have a state-issued ID.  This is absolutely false.  The number of voters who would be fenced out by a voter ID law is significantly more.  Studies show people without a current government-issued ID typically around 10 percent, with as many as 15 to 20 percent of certain populations — voters over 65 years old, voters under 30, and voters who earn less than $35,000 a year — lacking a government-issued photo ID.

Just over two million voters cast ballots in Minnesota’s 2010 general election.  Using the 1 percent number touted by photo ID supporters, 20,000 voters would be prevented from voting, losing their right to vote outright or having to jump through hurdles to obtain a photo ID to vote.  Using the more accurate 10 percent number, 200,000 Minnesotans would be in jeopardy of having their voting rights taken away.

In response to a 2010 survey, 71 of Minnesota’s 87 county attorneys reported a total of 26 voters who were convicted of fraud — all felons who were ineligible to vote.  Hardly mass organizing to throw an election.  They also reported investigating 7 voters for impersonating another voter and 165 voters for voting twice.  No convictions came of any of these investigations.

This means photo ID bills introduced up at the Capitol would take away the right to vote of anywhere between 20,000 to 200,000 of eligible, law-abiding Minnesota voters.  And all this in the hopes of preventing 26 people from voting illegally.  A breathtakingly bad idea.

Not Everyone Has A Coat

But to Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester), chief author of HF 89, it’s “common sense.”  As he said in introducing his bill, “This is a common sense thing.  It’s as much common sense as, when I left my room this morning I knew it was going to be cold outside, so I put my coat on.  That’s how common sense voter ID is for the election process.”  Unfortunately for Rep. Benson, not everyone in Minnesota has a coat (er, photo ID) and we surely shouldn’t make a fundamental right of democracy depend on having one.

Our election system is a national model, something demonstrated consistently by our nation-leading voter turnout and put under intense scrutiny by high-profile recounts in the last two elections.  Putting up serious new hoops for people to jump through in order to cast their individual vote is just plain wrong.  Minnesota is better than that and we hope you’ll join the fight to oppose photo ID legislation.

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