MARSHALL - Technology might hold the key to keeping the controversial voter ID issue from appearing on the ballot in November.
A new bill at the state Capitol would create an "electronic poll book" voter verification system through a new law rather than altering Minnesota's constitution. It's unclear, however, if GOP leaders would drop their ballot push if the legislation were adopted.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, sees the poll book idea as less expensive than requiring voters to present a state-issued ID card. Election officials would look up existing drivers' license photos or to take new photos of each voter at polling places.
GOP majorities in the Legislature have been moving to put the photo ID question to the voters, although lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have questioned whether or not it should be classified as a potential constitutional amendment. It would appear on the ballot if simple majorities in each chamber adopt the same language; Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has no veto power.
Republicans say voter ID would protect the integrity of the election process. District 21A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, supports the voter ID idea and said it's an issue he thinks voters want to have a voice on.
"It makes sense to me," he told the Independent in a recent interview. "If you're gonna be cashing a check or buying a case of beer, or any number of things, you have to show your ID. To me, it's a pretty common-sense thing. I think folks generally feel it's a good idea."
District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said Tuesday the new proposal doesn't address the vouching issue and was confused as to how this year's version of the poll book differs from last year when Ritchie's office felt the costs would be too high to pursue the idea.
With that said, Dahms doesn't have a problem with moving ahead on the poll book idea as long as the issue is resolved.
"When you have a high percentage of voters who want a constitutional amendment, then we need to move forward on voter ID," he said. "If we can solve the issue without putting it on the ballot, I'm fine with that. It's an issue that's got to be solved, not just a Band Aid."
Opponents of the voter ID amendment are worried about the potential of voter disenfranchisement. District 20B Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, doesn't think it's an issue because voter fraud in Minnesota hasn't proven to be a widespread problem. Koenen doesn't believe it's a constitutional issue, either, and should be left up to state statutes.
District 20A Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, contends the voter ID issue continues to be "a solution in search of a problem," but said the poll book idea deserves attention if for no other reason than it could serve as a sound compromise.
"This is an issue that clearly should not be in the Constitution," Falk said. "With Secretary of State Ritchie's e-poll book, you have the ability to pull up the photos from the DMV database, and it seems like a compromise that could get a lot of support and something that people will look at."
Falk said Republicans behind the voter ID issue are blowing voter fraud out of proportion and he downplayed the GOP's stance about voter registration cards being returned. He said Republican Norm Coleman's lead attorney in the 2008 recount after his race against senate Al Franken was settled admitted there was no voter fraud to be found.
"The Republicans continue to talk about all these voter registration cards that come back, but sometimes people use a P.O. box, so those cards will come back, or a college student voted in a particular location and doesn't reside there - those cards are gonna come back; it's just part of the process," Falk said. "County auditors have verified there's not an issue with voter cards being returned. Anyone who keeps promoting this rumor that there is voter fraud is just not being honest with the people."
State Republican Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, who introduced legislation to put voter ID on the November ballot, said she will continue to pursue the photo ID constitutional amendment.
A group that supports requiring voters to show photo ID is suing the state of Minnesota, saying it's not doing enough to confirm voter eligibility.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, the Associated Press said. The group says 48,000 of the 500,000 voters who registered on election day in 2008 are "unconfirmable." President Andy Cilek says its figure is based on freedom of information requests to the secretary of state's office that found that many voters were challenged or inactive.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.