Minnesota Voters Struggle over Fate of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment

by Jeremy Griffith

State Rep. Mike Benson-R and State Sen. Carla Nelson meet with constituents at a town hall event in Rochester, MN. -photo by Jeremy Griffith

State Rep. Mike Benson-R and State Sen. Carla Nelson-R meet with constituents at a town hall event in Rochester, MN. -photo by Jeremy Griffith

Voter ID Historical Review from Jeremy Griffith on Vimeo.

(Video: a historical update of the Voter ID Amendment debate thus far. -video by Jeremy Griffith)

On Nov. 6, Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment to require photo ID at the polls at future elections. Polling for the favorability of the measure was high towards the middle of the election year, but waned gradually as the election approached due to the vigorous campaigning of Democratic political campaigns and the bipartisan OurVoteOurFuture.org.

Principal architect of the measure, Minnesota Majority President Dan McGrath, voiced his disappointment to the St. Paul Pioneer Press when the votes began to be tallied.

“It started to look like an insurmountable lead for the opposition on this, ” McGrath said.

But the outcome could not have been predicted six months prior when favorability for the bill appeared to be high. The Secretary of State’s office statistics as reported by the Pioneer Press show that only 46.3 percent of Minnesotans voting favored the measure with just shy of 99 percent of the precincts tallied.  In May we reported polling data from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, showing that the majority was in favor of the ballot initiative. A later poll in September showed that support was beginning to wane, but was still on the side of the amendment. You can see the results of that poll in a graphic visualization below.

The fight for initiating a voter photo ID law started following the election of Senator Al Franken over incumbent Norm Coleman back in 2008. Many on the right believed that Franken’s razor thin victory following a recount effort was fueled by fraud and deception and groups gained prominence in efforts to clean up the Minnesota election process.

McGrath founded the ProtectOurVote.com group and began investigating election irregularities, many of which resulted in charges of felony fraud on the part of a few. A full history of the efforts of these groups can be found at their respective websites at ProtectMyVote.com and MinnesotaMajority.org.

In 2011, the legislature passed a measure requiring voter ID at the polls by a vast majority, but the measure was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton. Unable to overcome the governor’s veto, the legislature began looking at other ways to pass voter ID laws, and came up with the constitutional amendment idea, a measure that did not require the governor’s signature. The legislature voted April 4, 2012 to include the measure as a ballot initiative for the November general election.

Two of southern Minnesota’s prominent state legislators supported the bill, Rep. Mike Benson and Sen. Carla Nelson, both republicans.

“I think this is an issue that has been building,” Benson said. “This time around with both houses of the legislature in the (Republican) majority hands we thought it was the right time to go ahead with having hearings on this.”

According to Benson, the voter ID law if passed would not have eliminated same day voting; would provide for provisional balloting for those who do not have ID on election day; and would provide photo ID for those who can’t afford it.

Rep. Benson on Voter ID Amendment from Jeremy Griffith on Vimeo.

(Video: Minnesota State Rep. Mike Benson explains the history of the Voter Photo ID Constitutional amendment. -Video by Jeremy Griffith)

Carla Nelson Interview from Jeremy Griffith on Vimeo.

(Video: Minnesota State Senator Carla Nelson comments on the proposed Voter Photo ID Constitutional Amendment. -video by Jeremy Griffith)

State Senator Carla Nelson spoke about the problems with  the practice of voter vouching and how the situation would have been fixed had the new amendment passed.

“In the past we allowed an eligible voter to vouch for up to 15 others,” Nelson said. “I don’t think I know 15 people in my district who don’t have IDs. This amendment would eliminate the practice of vouching.”

Minnesota was one of only two states to have provisions for vouching and the only state to allow an eligible voter to vouch for multiple undocumented voters. Below you will find a visual graphic depicting the current status of states and their respective voter ID laws, with data provided by the National Conference for State Legislatures.

Wall Street Journal writer and Fox News contributor John Fund lent his support for the Minnesota ballot initiative, visiting the state several times to rally supporters. He spoke to a group in St. Paul and participated in a televised debate with the Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Fund is the author of the book, “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrat’s Put Your Vote at Risk”. 

“This is America! “Fund told supporters. “We can make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. We can do both at the same time.”

“This is America! We can make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. We can do both at the same time!” -John Fund, WSJ

As support for the Voter ID Amendment began to gather steam, opposition also stiffened. Over 80 organizations voiced their opposition for the measure, including the League of Women Voters and the Minnesota ACLU. Another group emerged from this coalition and formed the bipartisan group OurVoteOurFuture.org. The most prominent supporters of the group include former Governor Arne Carlson and Rep. Tim Penny.

The first evidence of the waning of support and the growing opposition appeared during a debate at Metro State University in St. Paul last October. Dan McGrath represented ProtectMyVote.com and Doran Shrantz of OurVoteOurFuture squared off in a 90-minute televised debate over this issue. Many of the audience members carried signs showing opposition to the amendment initiative.

McGrath made a strong argument for the amendment, but his rhetoric was not enough to overcome the opposition laid out by Schrantz.

“All of what you hear about the amendment tonight is wild speculation at best,” said McGrath. “If it’s not in the bill, it’s not going to happen.”

“This amendment will vastly change our election law in this state,” said Schrantz. “Many including the old, the poor and minorities, our servicemen overseas will be disenfranchised by this stark rewriting of our election law.”

A full video of the Metro State debate is available from Uptake.org’s You Tube Channel.

While voter ID laws are gaining ground in the nation, it is unclear whether new efforts to adopt such legislation here in the state of Minnesota, especially since both houses of the legislature and the office of the Governor are now under DFL control once again.

(Minneapolis Star Tribune Poll on Voter ID favoribility just prior to the election Nov. 6. -visualization by Jeremy Griffith.)

(States with Voter ID Laws on the books. Source Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. -Visualization by Jeremy Griffith.

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