In the thread on Ernie Leidiger’s ill-tempered appearance at a League of Women Voters Voter ID event, we’ve heard a lot of spin from an amendment supporter about what would be required should the amendment passes. Let’s unpack what’s really at stake here.
Here’s the text of the amendment:
This amendment would result in four key changes to the existing process. Let’s walk through each of them, and explain where it’s possible that citizens may be disenfranchised.
1. ”All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot.”
The amendment itself does not indicate what qualifies as “valid government-issued photographic identification”. If the amendment passes, that will be determined by enabling legislation that will need to be passed before the November 2013 municipal and school elections.
The Republican legislative majorities attempted to pass such a bill (S.F. 509) in the last session, vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton. How did they define “valid government-issued photographic identification”? Well, they only permitted the following forms of identification: a drivers license, a state identification card, a newly created “voter identification card”, or a tribal identification card. Residents of nursing homes without a form of ID listed above with their current address could use that expired ID plus a certified form from the nursing home’s administrator. What’s notable here? Student IDs are out and federally issued passports and military IDs aren’t good enough.
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.”
This sounds good at first blush. Who’s opposed to “free IDs”, right? But it ignores the fact that you need to provide supplementary documents to get the “free” voter ID card from the state. (And it’s not really “free”, after all, as the cost is being born by all of us as taxpayers.) The costs and the hassle of acquiring these supplementary documents can be a real impediment. For instance, a woman may have to provide a birth and a marriage certificate — total cost, if both are Minnesota documents, of $35. Plus, that woman is going to have to take time out during the business day to acquire those documents.
The other point here is that the amendment and S.F. 509 are essentially silent on how folks who have difficulty moving about (like the elderly or disabled) are going to acquire these IDs. The Carter-Baker Report, which local conservatives have grown fond of citing, calls for robust efforts by states (including mobile teams that actively go out to these populations to issue IDs) to ensure everyone gets what they need to maintain their right to vote. Yet, their bill doesn’t call for any of that. One wonders if they’ve really read the report or just glommed on to the “Jimmy Carter likes Voter ID” talking point.
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… 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.”
If you show up at the polls and forget your ID, your vote won’t be counted right away. Per S.F. 509, you will instead cast a “provisional ballot”. Under a provisional ballot scenario, your vote will not be counted unless — within seven calendar days of the election — you appear before the county auditor or municipal clerk with an appropriate form of ID.
The “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification” clause is where things get hairy. S.F. 509 does allow for provisional ballots to be counted under certain circumstances without one of the four forms of ID noted above. Passports and military IDs with a current address listed are sufficient under this provision, as are student IDs if accompanied by the appropriate documentation from the college or university. This, of course, begs the question of why they just can’t be accepted at the polls on Election Day instead of making the voter make a second trip to fully cast their ballot.
4. Potential impacts on same-day voter registration and absentee balloting
The amendment makes no call out for same-day voter registration or absentee balloting, so the details for each of these provisions will be subject to the enabling legislation. These ballots are subject to the same regulations as in-person ballots. S.F. 509 indicates that same-day registrations will be subject to the same criteria as provisional ballots, so people attempting to register will either have to provide a drivers license, state ID card, voter ID card, tribal ID card, passport, military ID, or student ID with appropriate supporting documentation. This eliminates the ability to use utility bills and apartment leases as proof of residence as well as eliminating the option to have another voter in your precinct vouch for your eligibility.
Meanwhile, S.F. 509 indicates that absentee voters will have to provide either their drivers license, state ID or voter ID number plus their Social Security Number in order to be approved for an absentee ballot. Today, those ID numbers are not required — verification of an absentee ballot request can be made by verifying name, address, and date of birth against the voter registration system.
What’s this all going to fix again, anyway?
A quick review of the numbers is in order. Since 2008, there have been about 150 convictions for illegal voting in Minnesota. That’s less than 0.01% of all votes cast in that time. Practically all of these convictions have been felons voting before their rights have been restored. Both the amendment and S.F. 509 are silent on this issue. As one’s criminal record status is not any of the valid ID cards, passing this amendment would do nothing to address these problems.
Another frequent problem cited are the postal verification cards (PVCs). PVCs are generated by same-day voter registrations. After the election, non-forwardable cards are sent to those voters to confirm their registration. Those that are undeliverable (most for valid reasons, such as the voter moving) are returned for further investigation by county auditors. If the auditors, upon further research, are unable to explain why the cards were undeliverable, they are required by law to turn them over to their county attorney for potential prosecution. In 2010, this process resulted in 399 voters (0.019%) being turned over to prosecutors — and based on the number of convictions reported above, many of those voters were ultimately not proven to have voted illegally.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office estimates that as many as 215,000 registered voters don’t have ID that would qualify under the requirements of the amendment and proposed enabling legislation. That’s over 10% of the number of voters in 2010, over 7% of the voters in 2008.
We should not risk disenfranchising tens of thousands of citizens to prevent fraud that is almost non-existent.
[UPDATE]: Secretary of State Mark Ritchie believes the changes to same-day registration and absentee balloting may be more severe than what I have posted here.