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Published April 28, 2011, 03:41 PM

MN Senate Approves Photo ID Requirement for Voting

All Minnesota voters would be required to present a valid photo ID at the polls under a bill the state Senate passed Thursday despite unanimous opposition from Democrats.

By: Patrick Condon, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — All Minnesota voters would be required to present a valid photo ID at the polls under a bill the state Senate passed Thursday despite unanimous opposition from Democrats.

The GOP-sponsored bill passed 37-26, with Republican backers saying it will modernize voting and boost confidence in election results after two recent statewide recounts in races for U.S. Senate and governor.

"The public deserves to have confidence in the integrity of our election system, and nothing inspires confidence like a well-ordered system that's secure and safe for the voter," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chief Senate sponsor.

But the debate took on a hard edge as Democrats cited the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud in Minnesota — which Republicans did not refute — and said the stricter requirement would make it harder for elderly and disabled people, those with low incomes and college students to vote.

Democrats predicted Gov. Mark Dayton would veto the bill if it gets to his desk. The sponsor of the bill's House companion is already preparing for that possibility, by simultaneously introducing a constitutional amendment that would ask voters themselves to decide in the 2012 election whether the requirement should be enforced.

Senators on both sides of the debate cited examples of how their own family members might be affected by the new requirement.

"I think it's very bad legislation and it will suppress certain people from voting," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon. He said his 95-year-old mother would have difficulty getting a photo ID if she didn't have her children to help.

But Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, said his disabled son found it easy to obtain a photo ID with help from his parents.

"We need to show a photo ID for so many things these days," DeKruif said. "To show it in order to vote is, I think, a very minor thing."

Limmer said Republicans believe there is widespread public support for the change after hearing from many citizens who believe they have experienced or witnessed irregularities at polling places.

Dayton has not directly threatened to veto the bill, but has questioned its need and said major changes to the state election system should have bipartisan support.

Dayton's Democratic colleagues in the Senate were blunter in their criticisms, pointing out that Minnesota typically leads the nation in voter turnout and has rarely seen problems with voter fraud.

"I don't suggest that hundreds of thousands of people will be disenfranchised," said Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. "But I will tell you that if 20,000 people cannot vote, or a hundred people cannot vote because they are seniors, or disabled, or serving in the military overseas, then this would mean a lesser voting system in Minnesota. That would be true if only one person cannot vote."

It's estimated the new requirement would cost the state about $5 million over a two-year period, largely by providing voter IDs for free to people who don't have them. But Democrats said that's misleading, since getting the free ID would require a birth certificate or other original form of identification that in most cases carry a cost to obtain.

Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, compared the requirement to poll taxes once used in some U.S. states to prevent blacks from voting.

"To say this is not a poll tax is disingenuous," Harrington said. "Historically that's a pre-condition to a right to vote, whether it's de facto or explicit."

Sen. David Thompson, R-Lakeville, countered that illegal votes can also cause disenfranchisement.

"If someone goes to the poll and votes illegally for the candidates I'm not voting for, I have been disenfranchised. So the argument works both ways," he said.

The House companion to Limmer's bill is sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the former secretary of state. Her bill has passed a handful of House committees, but Kiffmeyer is further along in pursuing the constitutional amendment option. Her bill to bring the question directly to voters is scheduled for a House hearing on Friday, and Limmer said he was ready to consider that approach, too.

"If the bill is not going to be passed by the governor, then we have to take it to the people," Limmer said.

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