On November 6th Minnesotans will vote on whether
to amend the state Constitution. And one of the proposed amendments will change
how future Minnesota elections work. It’s called the Voter ID amendment.
Right now, you don’t need a photo identification card in order to cast a ballot. The amendment
would change that. If it passes, it would make a number of other
changes to the voting system, too — but we won’t find out how they’ll work until sometime
next year. The amendment creates several requirements.
But either the Legislature, the courts or both will decide how to implement them.
Let’s start with the requirements. The question you’ll see on your ballot mentions two of
them. 1. You need a valid photo ID to vote. 2. And
the state must give free IDs to eligible voters. But the proposed amendment has three times
as many words as the ballot question. And it adds several more requirements:
-In addition to being valid, the photo ID will have to be government-issued
-Minnesota would need to set up a new system of provisional balloting
-And all voters (including absentee voters) will be subject to substantially equivalent
identity and eligibility verification The amendment would make these requirements
part of the state constitution, but it doesn’t define what they mean or specify how they
would work. What counts as a valid, government-issued
photo ID? Does it need to have your current address on it? Right now college kids can
use their student IDs to register to vote. Would those count?
It says voters who don’t have the right ID on election day would get to cast provisional
ballots. Those ballots would be counted only if the voter certifies the ballot later. But
doesn’t say how that process would work. How much time would you have to certify the ballot?
What would certifying it involve? And then there’s the part about making sure
all voters are subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification. What
would that mean for absentee voters? What about people voting in person? How would it
affect same-day registration? The amendment leaves the answers to all these
questions up to the state legislature. If they can’t reach an agreement with the governor
and pass a law, a court will have to fill in the blanks instead.
Lots of states have passed voter ID laws, but they weren’t faced with this level of
uncertainty. Of the 33 states that have some kind of voter
ID law, the National Conference of State Legislatures says only nine have the kind of strict requirement
proposed in Minnesota. And all but one of those states enacted the requirement through
the normal legislative process, so there weren’t a lot questions about how the new requirements
would work. The only state that’s put voter ID in its constitution is Mississippi.
And while both sides in the voter ID debate make predictions about how it will work here,
the fact of the matter is: We don’t know, exactly. The entire Legislature is up for
election this year. So we don’t even know who will be writing the rules for the new
system if it passes.