Column: Understand the amendment regarding voter IDElection Day, Nov. 6, 2012, is fast approaching.
By: Carolyn Holmsten and Amy Hove, The Republican Eagle
Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012, is fast approaching. The national conventions are over, the newspapers and radio stations are inundated with campaign ads, yard signs are popping up, and your mail box is getting full.
You will be asked to vote on a number of different topics this year, one of which is whether or not the Minnesota Constitution should be amended to require voters to present photo identification. Since the language that would be added to our state Constitution is more extensive than the amendment question, we thought it would be helpful to outline the question for you in more detail.
The following is the question that will appear on your ballot:
“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”
If passed, the Minnesota Constitution would be amended as follows:
• All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law.
• All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.
To fully understand what this means for voters, we will break this language into four sections:
1. All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot.
For a good many people, this would be an easy task. Simply pull out your driver’s license and present it to the election judges on Election Day when you visit your polling place.
However, how would absentee voters meet this requirement? This group of voters includes our military personnel serving overseas, nursing home residents, shut-ins, hospitalized citizens, “snowbirds”, and college students.
In states that already have photo ID requirements, there are a variety of exemptions to help accommodate these types of voters. Minnesota’s proposed amendment has no exceptions so we assume this requirement would apply to “all voters.”
Another item to note, a “government-issued” ID differs from a “government-approved” ID. This means that many of the college ID’s acceptable under today’s registration methods may no longer be considered government issued.
2. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section.
There are two cost factors to consider with this proposal: 1) the bill paid by the state on behalf of all taxpayers and 2) the expenses incurred by individuals during this process.
Databases show there are 215,000 current voters without Minnesota-issued IDs or whose ID has the wrong address. All of these individuals may quality for a free state-provided ID but more than likely, they would incur some expenses to obtain the documents needed for them to get this ID — including birth certificates and marriage licenses. Some voters who were born before birth certificates became commonly available may find this process expensive or impossible.
3. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law.
If you come to the polls on Election Day without your ID, this section of the amendment would still allow you to cast a ballot, now called a “provisional ballot.”
A provisional ballot is not counted on Election Day but instead is placed in an identifying envelope, deposited in a separate ballot box, transported to a central location (most likely your county seat), and then stored for a certain number of pre-determined days. If during this timeframe, the voter presents a valid government-issued photo identification, the ballot would then be counted. If the voter fails to come in or misses the deadline, the vote would not count.
Nationwide studies show that about one-third of provisional ballots are never counted.
The entire provisional process would be new to Minnesota and would require legislative direction. There would be startup costs for both the state and local governments.
With provisional balloting, there is also the potential that election results may be delayed until the end of the provisional voting period. Some of this uncertainty is dependent on how many provisional ballots are submitted and later counted.
4. All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.
This eligibility verification section is perhaps the most complicated part of this amendment. Minnesota voters voting absentee from another state or country would have to have their identity verified in a way that is substantially equivalent to the voter who hands their photo ID to an election judge in the polling place.
As election officials we are not sure how this would work. We also know of no other state that requires their military or civilian absentee voters to meet this type of requirement.
This section would also end same-day registration as we know it.
Under current law, you can come in to the polls on Election Day, register to vote and your votes are immediately counted. Under the proposed amendment, your registration information would need to be verified for accuracy in the same way as those who submitted registration forms prior to Election Day. These computer-driven eligibility verifications are currently not available in the polling place, so same-day registrants would be required to submit provisional ballots in the same manner as those who did not have a valid photo ID.
As county election officials it is not our role to take a formal position on any question. It is our responsibility to administer elections in compliance with all applicable laws as well as help educate voters.
We hope we have provided you with some good information and encourage you to continue your research. Additional materials on this topic can be found on our county website at www.co.goodhue.mn.us.
We urge everyone to take time in the next 55 days to become more familiar with all of the candidates and questions that will appear on your ballot. Remember to vote Nov. 6!