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Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat running for re-election in 2010.

High court gives Minnesota Republicans pair of amendment wins

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Minnesotans' Nov. 6 ballots will show two proposed constitutional amendments with the titles the Republican-controlled Legislature wanted.

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Four of six Minnesota Supreme Court justices ruled Monday that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie exceeded his authority in rewriting titles of the two amendments. The court ordered the Legislature-written titles to appear on ballots.

In another case, the same four justices ruled that the question voters will see on their ballots to require voters to produce photographic identification also will be as the Legislature wrote. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause challenged the question as being so vague that the court should have removed it from the ballot.

Titles on the amendments, like headlines on news stories, are important, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said. "Unfortunately, there are a fair number of people who maybe don't do the homework that they should. They will rely on what the title says."

Newman, chief Senate photo ID author, said it was important to get "photo ID" in the title, but what Ritchie wrote did not include it.

"Based on our construction of (state law), we hold that the secretary of state erred and exceeded his authority when he provided titles for the ballot questions on the proposed marriage and voter identification amendments different from the titles chosen by the Legislature," the four justices wrote.

Republican legislators and others who disputed Ritchie's rewritten titles said the Democratic secretary of state wrote titles designed to produce votes against the GOP-pushed proposed amendments.

The photo ID case centered on whether the question voters will see Nov. 6 is too vague to accurately represent the actual proposed amendment.

"The proper role for the judiciary, however, is not to second-guess the wisdom of policy decisions that the Constitution commits to one of the political branches," the majority justices wrote.

On the ballot, voters will see the title of each amendment along with a summary, known as the question. The entire amendment often does not appear on the ballot, although Justice Paul Anderson in his dissent said he thought it should.

Justices Alan Page and Anderson, the only two not appointed by a Republican governor, strongly dissented in both rulings. Justice Helen Meyer retired this month and did not participate in the cases.

Newman said he does not think the decision was political.

"When judges make decisions, they are not supposed to make it based on their political affiliations or leanings," said Newman, who is a lawyer.

Page was especially harsh in his dissent in the title case.

He called the photo ID ballot question deceptive: "What we are dealing with is a classic bait and switch."

Page agreed with arguments that what will be on the ballot does not explain that some voters will not need to show photo IDs and it otherwise is misleading.

The ruling from the majority of justices indicated the wording could have been clearer, but it was not bad enough to keep the issue off the ballot.

"To be blunt, in this case that is nonsense," Page wrote.

The majority wrote that removing a proposed constitutional amendment from the ballot would be unprecedented.

"We must evaluate the ballot question with a high degree of deference to the Legislature," the four wrote.

The high court combined two cases challenging Ritchie's rewriting of the proposed constitutional amendment titles into one case.

One constitutional amendment proposal would define marriage as between a man and a woman. The Republican-written title was "Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman," but Ritchie changed it to "Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples."

The original photo ID title was "Photo identification required for voting," while Ritchie's re-written version was "Changes to in-person and absentee voting and voter registration; provisional ballots."

Reaction to the court rulings was predictable, with Republicans attacking Ritchie.

"The restraint imposed on him by the court shows that he cannot put his own partisan feelings aside and fulfill his role objectively," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

Opponents to the photo ID amendment said that allowing the Legislature to mislead voters is a concern.

"This decision means that it is not just the usual campaign ads that voters need to be concerned are manipulative or untrue, but that information on the ballot itself may also be misleading to voters," said President Stacy Doepner-Hove of the Minnesota League of Women Voters.

Here is the voter ID proposed constitutional amendment:

"All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. 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. 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."

This is the language voters will see on their Nov. 6 ballots:

"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?"

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