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Editorial: Voter ID falls short of goal

Requiring citizens to show identification when they cast their ballots makes some sense. You have to show ID to do just about anything of importance these days, so why not when you vote?

The problem is that the proposed voter ID amendment to the Minnesota Constitution is the wrong way to go about addressing the primary concern: election fraud.

Constitutions are the framework of free and representative government; they offer guiding principles to help ensure our rulers don't trample on our personal rights and liberties. The Minnesota Constitution already ensures that eligible voters have a right to vote and the freedom to do so.

Changes to a constitution should be rare and made under special circumstances, especially to protect our rights. Minnesotans have followed that path since adopting their Constitution in 1857.

There's nothing rare or special about voter ID. The matter more appropriately belongs before the Legislature for careful deliberation and decision.

There's the rub. Republicans couldn't get a voter ID law past the governor's office, so they resorted to placing the matter of the ballot as a constitutional amendment.

That brings us to the second problem with this measure: Lawmakers did a lousy job wording the voter ID amendment.

The ballot question seems fairly above board:

"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?"

Don't let the simplicity fool you. The actual language of the amendment isn't on the ballot, and we see considerable expense plus major legislative and court battles ahead if Minnesota Constitution Article VII is amended to include:

(b) 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.

(c) 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.

The proposed amendment raises way too many questions. They include:

What qualifies for a government-issued ID? Tribal ID, state college ID or city/county/school badge? We have lots of official governments, including townships.

The state would pay for IDs, but how would voters who don't have IDs prove they are eligible and therefore qualify?

How long would provisional ballots be held -- 24 hours, 72 hours, a week -- and still be counted? How long might this delay election results? How many costly recounts might taxpayers face?

How do absentee voters, particularly those in the military, show IDs? The last thing on someone's mind during deployment is heading to the courthouse or city hall or schoolhouse to register in case an election occurs while the individual defends people's rights to vote at home.

The list of questions goes on.

We have no confidence that Legislature is up to the task of addressing these questions by July 1, 2013.

Oh yes, the amendment language continues with Section 2:

(a) The proposed amendment must be submitted to the people at the 2012 general election. If approved, the amendment is effective July 1, 2013, for all voting at elections scheduled to be conducted November 5, 2013, and thereafter.

Citizens -- even those who champion voter ID -- should reject this poorly framed amendment. Minnesotans deserve more from their lawmakers and from their Constitution.