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Published February 28, 2012, 09:00 AM

Minnesota lawmakers mull substitute to voter ID plan

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Some Minnesota Republican lawmakers say they would consider a technology-driven alternative to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to bring photo IDs to the polls.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Some Minnesota Republican lawmakers say they would consider a technology-driven alternative to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to bring photo IDs to the polls.

A bill circulating in the Legislature would create an "electronic poll book" voter verification system through a new law, rather than altering Minnesota's constitution. It's too soon to tell if GOP leaders would drop their ballot push if the legislation were adopted, with some amendment backers viewing it as a diversionary tactic.

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie sees poll book as less expensive than requiring voters to present a state-issued ID card. Under the system, election officials would look up existing drivers' license photos or take new photos of each voter at polling places.

Ritchie suggested during testimony to a House committee that it would be less onerous for voters who no longer drive, have changed their addresses without updating a license or those who have lost their ID cards. He said hundreds of thousands of voters fall into the various categories.

Republican Sen. John Howe of Red Wing told Minnesota Public Radio News for a story Tuesday (http://bit.ly/wYBPxj ) that he believes the option would help achieve the goal of proper voter identification.

"I can't speak to whether this does anything on the constitutional amendment for photo ID," Howe said. "But I can tell you that I personally, along with many of my colleagues, want to see things done as much as we can legislatively."

Amid protest by Democrats, GOP majorities in the Legislature have been moving to put a photo ID question on the November ballot. It would appear on the ballot if simple majorities in each chamber adopt the same language, and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has no veto power.

Even if adopted, however, lawmakers would have to come back next year to pass follow-up bills designing the voter identification system.

Howe said the poll book option leaves fewer loose ends.

State Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, is among a group of lawmakers hesitant to enact voter ID laws through the constitution. He said he agrees with the concept of a voter ID requirement, but he wants it done in a bipartisan manner.

"I would prefer to do it this year while we're here, while I know I'm here," Miller said. "We don't know what the makeup of the Legislature will be next year. So, I'd much rather be part of that process to fix the problem, if there is one, and just bring voter integrity to our elections. I think it's important."

While Ritchie has been providing testimony on the electronic poll book concept, a bill isn't ready for a hearing.

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, said he's not convinced it's the answer.

"It's snazzy, but it does nothing absent a photo ID law," Downey said.

The constitutional amendment enacting a photo ID requirement is advancing toward final votes in both chambers.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he's not sure if his caucus would embrace the electronic poll book as a viable alternative.

The House sponsor of the constitutional amendment, state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, said she is not easing up on trying to put a voter ID requirement on the ballot.

"We see it as complementary, maybe, but not a substitute," said Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. "So, we're proceeding on the photo ID constitutional amendment as we were before."

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Information from: KNOW-FM, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/stations/knowksjn/

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