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“I think it’s a privilege. It’s not a right,” Minnesota GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers said about voting during an Easter recess radio interview.

He soon backtracked, as opponents of a GOP-sponsored change in voting requirements pounced on his words.

Zellers did well to recant. No other individual right is as clearly guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions to all citizens of eligible age and residency. This state’s nation-leading voter turnout attests to how deeply Minnesotans value that promise.

Yet whether intentional or not, Zellers’ misstatement aptly describes the consequences of a GOP initiative that’s likely to land on the 2012 ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment. It would make voting harder for thousands of Minnesotans — those who are already underrepresented at the polls.

GOP legislators here and around the country are making a concerted push to require voters to present a government-issued photo ID card at the polls before registering to vote or receiving a ballot.

Election Day registration using utility bills or the sworn voucher of a neighbor to prove residency, allowed since 1974, would be eliminated. 

These are not trivial changes, though they may seem so to the majority of Minnesotans who routinely carry driver’s licenses in their billfolds. They may think that nearly everyone does.

They also may have swallowed the GOP argument that Minnesota’s elections are rife with fraud, and that a photo ID requirement is a needed remedy.

Those are faulty assumptions. Republican sponsors of “voter ID” bills cite one state agency’s estimate that 140,000 Minnesotans lack a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID card.

Consider the likely party preferences of people in some of those categories, and you’ll see one reason why Republicans are so keen to impose a voter ID requirement, while the bills have yet to receive a single DFL vote.