Voter ID ballot language questioned

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, July 3, 2012

ST. PAUL  — Groups opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment to require photo IDs for voting argued Monday to Minnesota’s highest court that allowing the ballot question to move forward would set up a “voter beware” choice.

Lawyers representing the League of Women Voters Minnesota, Common Cause Minnesota and other groups filed a brief ahead of a hearing in two weeks on whether the question should be struck from November’s ballot. Citing committee hearings and floor debates, the brief contends legislative backers deliberately withheld details about how elections would be conducted if voters adopt the photo ID requirement.

“In other words, the Legislature effectively asks this Court to hold that the standard in Minnesota is ‘voter beware,’ because the Legislature is free to mislead and deceive voters as to the meaning and effect of the amendments it submits for approval,” said the brief signed by Minneapolis lawyer Richard Wilson, one of the plaintiff attorneys.

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The opponents said there are too many vagaries about which “government-issued” IDs would be adequate, how provisional ballots would be handled and what happens to people who don’t vote in person.

Republicans who lead the Legislature put the measure on the ballot without the backing of any Democratic lawmakers. The bill laying out the amendment runs barely two pages and leaves it up to future lawmakers to fill in details about how to carry it out if the amendment prevails this fall.

All voters will see is a question that reads: “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?”

Lawyers for the Legislature argued in a filing last week that courts usually give lawmakers latitude in crafting ballot questions. More than 200 amendments have been put before voters since statehood and some of those were much less descriptive than the photo ID proposal, supporters said. They said this question hardly qualifies as “palpable evasion” that could render it invalid.

Foes of the photo ID push said the previous questions didn’t attract legal challenges and shouldn’t be viewed as the standard.



But they note in most cases, lawmakers avoided “unfair, unclear nor misleading” questions even on hotly disputed topics.

“The responsible performance of the legislature in drafting ballot questions for the first 150 years of Minnesota history stands in sharp contrast to the irresponsible conduct of the Legislature here,” the new brief said.

The Supreme Court hearing on July 17 is expected to lead to a decision by late August, when elections officials say they will start to design the general election ballots.