New titles of Minnesota ballot measures stir backlash
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A pair of hot-button November ballot measures headed for votes in Minnesota caused fresh friction Monday due to Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's move to rebrand both in a fashion that offends backers.
Supporters of the drive to write Minnesota's same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution sued Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson for revising the ballot question's title. Hours later, Ritchie announced in a written statement that he had also reworked the title for a proposed amendment that would require people to present a government-issued photo ID before voting. A lawsuit could follow there, as well.
In both cases, Ritchie cited a state law allowing the state elections chief to pick "an appropriate title" for each question. But Republican lawmakers and others involved in the ballot efforts contend that Ritchie is meddling and deliberately sowing confusion among voters in the hopes of defeating measures Democrats steadfastly oppose.
More than a dozen Republican lawmakers joined the pro-amendment group, Minnesota for Marriage, in filing a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court seeking to restore the original title from when the Legislature voted to put the measure to voters. The case is expected to be swiftly considered.
Ritchie announced last month that he had revised the amendment title from "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman" to "Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples." Swanson, also a Democrat, validated the change.
Amendment supporters said the officials lacked the authority to rewrite the title that lawmakers approved in 2011. Republican Sen. Warren Limmer said the old wording was crafted to be neutral, whereas the word "limiting" could give people pause immediately before they vote.
"Those words are definitely considered negative and misleading, and I believe they're created to sway the voter," said Limmer, who sponsored the same-sex marriage bill placing the issue before voters.
Limmer said the new language is faulty because state law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The substitute title, he said, creates the impression that the state's posture toward marriage is changing.
Those behind the amendment preferred wording that focuses on the traditional definition of marriage. They circulated video clips of a Senate floor debate where the title was written. In the debate, Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, who is openly gay, offered the language as it appeared in the final legislation. (Dibble voted against that title but 49 senators voted for it.)
Ritchie hasn't been made available for questions since announcing the title switches. Pat Turgeon, a spokeswoman for Ritchie, said Monday the office won't comment now that litigation is pending. Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Swanson, said the attorney general would respond through court filings and withhold public comment until then.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, defended his fellow Democrats by calling the lawsuit a waste of "taxpayer time and money on frivolous issues."
Winkler said the Ritchie titles are more accurate than those adopted by the Legislature. "Republicans should not sue the secretary of state for doing his job and making the 2012 election run smoothly," he said.
A group aiming to defeat the marriage amendment has said the new title is acceptable from its vantage point. An official with Minnesotans United for All Families noted that nothing in the actual question has changed.
It will read: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"
Later Monday, Ritchie infuriated proponents of the voter ID amendment by substituting their title for one of his own. If Ritchie's change stands, the title will be "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots" rather than the original "Photo Identification Required for Voting."
Dan McGrath, of the pro-amendment Minnesota Majority, said the group's lawyers have begun discussions about a lawsuit. It would be the second court case involving that amendment; opponents are challenging the wording of the actual question because they say it is vague and misleading.
McGrath said Ritchie's move could complicate the earlier lawsuit.
"The secretary's change would seem to render that complaint moot, but it's also a misleading and biased title that describes minor side-effects of the voter ID amendment instead of its heart and soul, which is simply requiring ID to vote," McGrath said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.