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UPDATE: Final Minnesota legislative bills may be passed in middle of the night

In Senate committee, opposition to voter ID

A parade of witnesses lined up before a Senate committee Wednesday to testify against a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a photo ID, arguing it would disenfranchise many citizens and would be difficult to implement .

More than 30 people spoke at the Local Government and Elections committee hearing, some speaking personally and many representing interest groups such as AARP, ACLU of Minnesota, and the League of Women Voters. They argued that students, the elderly, the disabled and minorities all could run into difficulty complying with such a law.

Chris Bell, co-chairman of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, approached the committee led by a guide dog, and talked about renewing his soon-to-expire Minnesota state photo ID. Bell said he had to take a cab to do so, but said he was lucky he didn't run into any other issues.

"What if I hadn't had a state ID? What kind of evidence would I need to get a Minnesota state ID?" Bell said, adding that he was told he would need a certified copy of a birth certificate. "Well, I looked on the Internet and in order to get a certified copy of your birth certificate in Minnesota you need a valid, government-issued photo ID."

The amendment's lead sponsor, Sen. Scott Newman, a Hutchinson Republican, said the measure would help ensure the integrity of Minnesota's voting systems. If approved by the full Legislature, it would appear on the November ballot.

The GOP-controlled Legislature approved a voter ID bill last year, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. That spurred the move this year to bypass Dayton with a constitutional amendment.

Beth Fraser, director of governmental affairs for the Secretary of State's Office, testified against the proposal. She said a check of state records showed that 215,000 registered voters in Minnesota don't have a valid or current ID.

Representatives of the Minnesota Association of Counties and the Association of Townships said the changes could require significant time to train election officials.

If passed, the amendment would take effect July 30, 2013, ahead of primary elections.

Some committee members had concerns that the amendment could enshrine photo technology language in the constitution that would become outdated. Newman said the amendment language was broad to allow future Legislatures to draft a bill that would fill in details.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said such open-endedness could confuse people voting on the amendment in November.

"It seems somewhat nontransparent to just say, 'Oh you'll just have to see what the next Legislature does about whether your ID will be valid,'" Sen. Sieben said.

When Dayton vetoed the photo ID bill last year, he accompanied it by forming a task force to study ways to modernize state elections. The group is due to report its findings next January.

Democratic governors in Missouri, Montana New Hampshire and North Carolina have also vetoed voter ID legislation. Eight states now have laws requiring a photo ID at the polls, though many of those are being challenged.

Mississippi passed voter ID via constitutional amendment last year, but that state's law requires approval by the U.S. Department of Justice before it can take effect. The Justice Department last month rejected a new South Carolina law that requires people to show government-issued photographic identification when they vote in person.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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