By KENT KAISER – Guest Columnist
Gov. Mark Dayton, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and DFL legislators have repeatedly said that passing a constitutional amendment requiring people to show photo ID to vote would end "same-day" voter registration. This is completely untrue.
The fact is, same-day (or Election Day) voter registration would be preserved under the constitutional amendment recently passed by the legislature and to be considered by voters this fall.
Same-day voter registration is an important aspect of Minnesota’s election system. In any given election, about 15 to 20 percent of voters will register on Election Day.
The vast majority of same-day registrants show up at the polls with documentation to prove that they are eligible to vote. That documentation typically includes – get this – a photo ID. Most come with a drivers license, Minnesota ID card, US passport, US military ID card, etc., to show who they are, along with other documentation to show where they live.
Far from ending same-day registration, as DFL leaders claim, the proposed constitutional amendment would effectively extend same-day registration practices to the entire voting population. Everyone would have to show photo ID (proving who they are) in order to vote, just like most same-day registrants already do.
The proposed amendment will provide photo ID to anyone who does not have one, for free. Consequently, the amendment stands to become the "gold standard" for similar election law across the nation.
Elsewhere, Democrats have applauded photo ID. The African-American former mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young, and former President Jimmy Carter – both Democrats – have both spoken in favor of photo ID, not only to bring integrity to the election system but also to empower individuals with photo ID for everyday life. In Rhode Island, a photo ID requirement was passed with broad bipartisan support.
Currently in Minnesota, we are lagging behind other states because of our antiquated laws against requiring photo ID to vote. With passage of this constitutional amendment, especially with its provision to give photo IDs to people who don’t have them, Minnesota once again will be on the forefront of election administration.
Requiring photo ID to vote will change one aspect of Minnesota’s election system: The practice known as "vouching" will be eliminated. It’s about time. The overwhelming majority of Minnesotans agree that this practice should have been scrapped long ago.
For those who don’t know, "vouching" is the practice whereby a registered voter can "vouch" for the residence of up to 15 unregistered persons without documentation (and there is no need for the registered voter to vouch for the unregistered voters’ actual identity or eligibility), and then those previously unregistered people can vote right then and there, on the spot. It really is as ridiculous as it sounds.
Only a sliver of people use "vouching" to register and vote. Still, this segment of the voting population should be held to the same standards of integrity as the rest of us are. Many Minnesotans are justifiably suspicious of DFL efforts to preserve the looseness in the election system that "vouching" permits.
We should have high rates of precision and security in our election system, especially in light of the degree to which non-Minnesotans have become involved in our state’s elections in recent years. Droves of out-of-state activists come here to participate in election activities. A system with inadequate safeguards could be overwhelmed by over-exuberant and less-than-scrupulous partisan activists from outside our state and Minnesotans understand this.
For more than a decade, poll after poll has shown that three-quarters or more of Minnesotans want everyone to show photo ID at the polls. It is disconcerting to hear DFL leaders claim that this is a partisan issue, because there is, in fact, very little difference among rank-and-file Republicans, Democrats, or Independents on it.
Minnesota’s photo ID amendment could very well receive one of the highest total votes of any constitutional amendment ever passed, thereby making it among the most bipartisan measures ever adopted in our state.
It’s unseemly for the governor to mislead Minnesotans to promote his highly partisan, out-of-the-mainstream position on photo ID.
Kent Kaiser, Ph.D., is a professor at Northwestern College in Roseville and a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. He previously served in the administrations of Minnesota Secretaries of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, and Mark Ritchie, a Democrat.