Senate committee takes up Photo ID constitutional amendment

Most of those testifying oppose the idea

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

Senate Local Government and Elections Committee Chairman Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, took hours of sometimes emotional testimony Wednesday, Feb. 1 on the proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment.

No votes were taken on the controversial provision that could require all voters to show to present a photo identification prior to voting.

Slated for the ballot this fall, the amendment, if approved by voters, would require the state to provide a free Photo ID for the needy.

Republicans passed Photo ID legislation last year, but the bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Nearly all of the dozens of testifiers appearing before the Senate committee spoke in opposition to the amendment. A number of opponents came from the disabled community.

Beau Karlen, testifying for ARC of Minnesota, a group that works on behalf of people with intellectual and development disabilities, in a halting voice said the proposed amendment would make it harder for thousands of disabled Minnesotans.

“Please do not make life more difficult than it already is,” said Karlen, a resident of Vandeveer’s Senate district.

Another representative of the disabled community, Chris Bell, of Minnesota Citizens with Disabilities, spoke of inquiring into what it took to obtain a Minnesota ID card.

He found out, Bell said, it required a Social Security card and a certified birth certificate — the later requiring a Photo ID to obtain. “So it seems to me you need a Photo ID to get a Photo ID,” he said.

Beth Fraser, director of governmental affairs with the Minnesota Secretary of State, testified that her office opposes the amendment.

A check of state records shows some 215,000 registered voters in Minnesota lack a valid or current ID, Fraser said.

Fraser styled the amendment as crippling election day voter registration that has been key to Minnesota’s nation leading status in voting. “The proposal is simply a bad idea,” Fraser said.

But Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority said he couldn’t understand how testifiers could insist that requiring photo identification to vote would disenfranchise masses of voters when the state would be required to issue free IDs.

“Some of the arguments I found ridiculous,” he said. McGrath characterized opponents appearing before the committee as a “parade of professional activists.”

Most Minnesotans support Photo ID, he said.

But lawmakers expressed concerns too.

Sen. Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, said that a lot of unknowns surround the amendment. “It’s pretty confusing,” he said. The proposal needed to be better fleshed out, Kelash said.

Senate Photo ID bill author Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said that after the amendment passes lawmakers would further craft legislation regarding it.

But other Democratic lawmakers said the amendment and its photo identification language could place in the state constitution dead words made obsolete by advances in technology.

The Photo ID hearing drew one of the larger crowds to a committee this session with the line of people hoping to attend the hearing stretching down the Capitol corridor.