Speaking to a packed crowd at the in St Louis Park on Monday, Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) said a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voters to present government-issued IDs at polling places could cost local governments millions.
Ellison claimed the law could cost Ramsey County $2 million alone.
He painted this picture of the effects associated with implementing the voter ID amendment: “You’re not getting your streets plowed, so we can stop a fraud that does not exist.”
The ballot question asks: "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?"
Ellison Challenger Disputes Costs
Though the forum was sparsely attended by amendment supporters, the measure is not without its supporters, including Ellison's Republican challenger, Chris Fields.
"It’s just common sense. There’s nothing I’ve read that suggests that people can’t vote," Fields said in an interview with Patch, citing a proposed "provisional ballot" process. "If it does turn out to be a Norm Coleman-type race, you can go back and say, ‘Hey, please count my ballot because now I can validate my address.’ To me it’s just good, common sense."
He also rejected claims about the cost associated with obtaining and maintaining the correct government identification, saying Ellison and other voter ID opponents had "lost their credibility."
"What disturbs me is some of the rhetoric coming from the other side, saying this is a poll tax," he said. "That’s completely disingenuous, to say the least. We’re not telling folks they can’t vote. We’re not putting up a barrier between them and their right to vote. We just want to make sure that the integrity of our electoral system is sound."
Panelists Urge Opposition
Around 175 people attended the community forum and panel discussion. Panelists included State Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 46B), and education consultant and former University of Minnesota Regent Dr. Josie Johnson, along with an Ellison campaign staffer and an Iraq war veteran.
Simon said out that because it was a constitutional amendment, tweaks to the voter ID system would be very difficult if unforeseen problems arose.
“It’s not just a bad idea, it’s a bad idea etched in stone,” he said.
Johnson said she was disappointed that Minnesota would even consider a measure whose “origin [was] in the days when a deliberate effort was made to keep us African Americans from voting.”
She also urged audience members to fight the measure.
“What we can do is not put Minnesota in the camp of people trying to deny the right to vote," she said.
Audience Echoes Panelists
During the discussion part of the evening, many audience members shared concerns that the amendment would prevent the elderly, those with special needs, students, and the poor from voting.
“This is about disenfranchising the fringes of society. It takes a lot of effort for people – except for the privileged – to vote” said Lisa Vandyke, a South Minneapolis resident, who has advocated in the past to inform people of their voting rights.
Many shared Ellison's concerns about the costs associated with implementing the measure.
Some at the forum saw the voter ID measure as a naked political ploy.
New Hope resident David Pearlman said the ballot question’s language would be more accurate if it instead read: “Shall the constitution be modified to make it more difficult for Democratic voters?”