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Pros and cons of voter 'photo ID law' discussed

should a photo id be required to vote? About 20 people attended a League of Women Voters seminar Thursday at the mall in Detroit Lakes to hear an expert in the field talk on the issue.

If Minnesota adopts a voter ID law, residents should prepare for unexpected hassles at the polls, and large segments of the population will have to scramble to avoid being disenfranchised.

It will also cost an estimated $25 million to $48 million to implement.

That's $5 million to $8 million in state costs and $20 million to $40 million in local costs.

All to solve a problem with fraudulent voting that does not even appear to exist in Minnesota.

That comes from Kathy Bonnifield, associate director of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, who spoke at a League of Women Voters forum Thursday at Washington Square Mall.

Bonnifield is a co-author of the 2010 study, "Facts About Ineligible Voting and Voter Fraud in Minnesota," which is based on data collected directly from county attorneys across the state.

Essentially, she said Minnesota has one of the best, cleanest election systems in the nation, and that would just be mucked up by a bill requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

Those who are registered to vote but lack the proper photo ID would have to use new "provisional" ballots.

In order for the provisional ballot to be counted, the voter would have to go to the county auditor's office to provide documentation.

A number of reports, written by diverse organizations including the Brennan Center and the Wall Street Journal, highlight problems with provisional ballots. In Indiana, a state with a photo ID requirement, 80 percent of the ID-related provisional ballots cast were not counted in the 2008 general election.

Requiring Minnesota voters to have a photo ID could disenfranchise large numbers of voters here as well.

A 2008 study found that of registered voters in Indiana, large numbers did not have a valid photo ID.

They include over 16 percent of voters age 68 and older; 18 percent of African Americans, 20 percent of people between 18-34 years old, and more than 17 percent of those who earn less than $40,000 a year.

Perhaps it's not surprising that most of those groups tend to vote Democratic, and those pushing the photo ID bill in Minnesota are almost universally Republican.

Those registered voters who do not have the proper ID would have to scramble to get it or would not be able to vote.

More people were disenfranchised by the Indiana photo ID law in the past two years than the number of reported cases of impersonation at the polls -- from anywhere in the country -- in the last 20 years.

In other words, the law uses a sledgehammer to kill a flea.

In one example, a nun in Indiana who was also a poll worker had to turn away elderly nuns who were registered, and whom she knew personally, because they did not have valid identification.

Supporters of a voter ID requirement cite a number of benefits, however, including:

Voter confidence: "Poll after poll shows that over 80 percent of Minnesotans want a photo ID requirement to vote," according to a fact sheet at the meeting attributed to "This shows the public doesn't have full confidence in the fairness of our current election system ... nothing inspires confidence like photo ID."

A photo ID law would prevent fraud from influencing elections, the group says. "It's far better to prevent fraudulent voting than track it down after the votes have already been counted."

It would make life easier for disadvantaged voters by providing ID at no charge, enabling them to get work, open bank accounts and participate in other areas of society that require a photo ID.

Requiring photo ID at the polls "is a logical extension of the "motor voter" law establishing a voter registration system for those getting a driver's license or state ID card. "Using the same database for state identification and elections just makes sense," the group says.

And finally, supporters say state-issued voter ID cards would enable the use of technology to streamline the election process. Computer terminals and card readers would replace paper voter registrations and roster books. "Voter check-in would be faster, data more accurate and less money would be spent on inefficient outdated data entry practices," the group says.

But Minnesota has long worked to enable as many eligible residents to vote as possible, with as few hassles as possible, and a photo ID law flies in the face of that tradition.

Bonnifield said it would disenfranchise and inconvenience a lot of people, at no small taxpayer expense, for absolutely no purpose: County attorneys in Minnesota all say there is no problem with voter impersonation -- and that would be the only "problem" the new law would fix.