ACLU files lawsuit over Photo ID

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) along with others filed a suit with the Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday, May 30,  requesting the court bar the proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment from appearing on the November ballot.

The proposed amendment, carried in the House by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, if passed by voters, would require voters to present a photo ID to vote.

The legislation, hotly debated at the State Capitol for years, was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year, but the bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Dayton argues allegations that voter fraud afflicts the state’s election system are baseless.

This year the Republican Legislature approved a proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment, thereby eliminating the chance of another veto because governors cannot veto proposed amendments.

The ACLU doesn’t view this as progress.

“This ballot proposal is incredibly troubling because it asks voters to put an amendment in the constitution in a manner that is misleading, confusing and unclear,” said Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN, in a statement.

“Voting is one of the most important rights we have, and this amendment aims to take away that right from the most vulnerable, under the guise of a seemingly innocuous photo ID requirement,” he said.

The ACLU, which filed the suit along with the League of Women Voters Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, Common Cause Minnesota, and others, argues the ballot question that would appear before voters is misleading and unreasonable for several reasons.

For one thing, it mentions “valid ID,” which could have voters thinking any photo ID would be valid.

But the amendment actually requires a “government-issued ID,” the ACLU notes.

Further, opponents argue that the proposed amendment, if approved by voters, would usher in broader changes to state election law than the ballot question implies.

“I think it’s a very strong lawsuit,” said Carolyn Jackson, ACLU lobbying coordinator.

For her part, Kiffmeyer believes the court will reject the ACLU lawsuit.

Kiffmeyer, citing a 1898 case before the state supreme court, said the court found that for a question going before voters to be unreasonable and misleading a “palpable evasion” of the constitutional requirements had to exist.

Does it?

“No,” said Kiffmeyer.

“We took a look at that,” she said.

Both Kiffmeyer and Jackson assume the court will probably take action on the suit prior to August. For one thing, the ballots for the upcoming election will begin to be printed the second week of August, Kiffmeyer said.

Kiffmeyer, former secretary of state, said that should the ACLU lawsuit be turned away by the state supreme court, it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, because the case involves a state constitutional matter.

“The U.S. Supreme Court already upheld Photo ID,” said Kiffmeyer of one Photo ID case.

But Kiffmeyer expects further legal challenges next year, assuming the current lawsuit fails.

“I don’t know why,” Kiffmeyer said of pursuing ongoing litigation.

The timing of lawsuits, Jackson said, depends on the evolution of the case.

But she, too, expects more legal action.

“It wouldn’t be one lawsuit. It would be a myriad of lawsuits,” said Jackson.

Groups are banning together right now to politically fight the proposed amendment, she said.

In a statement, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, sharp critic of the proposed amendment, suggested the legal story has many more chapters.

“This is no doubt only the first shot fired in a long litigation war over photo ID that was started when Photo ID proponents insisted on a constitutional amendment with vague language that can’t be corrected,” said Winkler.

“The proponents started the war and the ultimate casualty will be the election system of Minnesota and voters’ trust in its integrity,” he said.

But things look different to Minnesota Majority President Jeff Davis.

“The opponents have been talking about a lawsuit from nearly the time that the Voter ID bill was introduced in the legislature,” said Davis, whose group has long backed the Photo ID initiative.

“What are these folks so afraid that they feel the need to file a lawsuit trying to block Minnesotans from voting on this issue?” he asked.

The Photo ID ballot question would read: “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?”