Last year, Republicans introduced legislation in thirty-four states to mandate government-issued photo IDs to cast a ballot. Nine GOP states have passed voter ID laws since the 2010 election, including Pennsylvania earlier last month. Minnesota, another important battleground state, could be next.
Last year, Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a bill from the GOP legislature that would have given the state the strictest voter ID law in the nation, prohibiting passports, military IDs and student IDs as valid documentation. Now the legislature is bypassing the governor by approving a constitutional amendment for voter ID that will go on the November ballot. The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the legislation; once agreed upon, the measure will go on the 2012 ballot. If approved by voters, the 2013 legislature will implement the particulars of the law.
Voter ID laws are the latest attempt by conservative groups and corporate interests to shape a GOP-friendly electorate and consolidate the power of the 1 percent within the political system. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of US citizens lack government-issued ID, including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans. “While the photo ID constitutional amendment would impede the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans—including active duty service members and other absentee voters—it will disproportionately impact the elderly, students, foreclosure victims, the working poor and minorities, the very citizens who most need to use the democratic process to counter the influence of the superwealthy and the political entities they finance,” says a report from the grassroots progressive group TakeAction Minnesota.
According to an analysis by the Minnesota secretary of state’s office, 215,000 Minnesota voters—7 percent of the state’s electorate—do not have a driver’s license or ID card with a current address on it. The voter ID law could also end the state’s popular system of Election Day voter registration, which 18.5 percent of voters used in 2008. Minnesota has the highest voter turnout in the US and is often held up as a model for the rest of the nation.
Voter ID laws have been a top priority of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafted a model voter ID bill for state legislators in 2009. ALEC members sponsored voter ID legislation in five states that passed such laws in 2011. ALEC’s state chairman in Minnesota, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, also happens to be the lead sponsor of Minnesota’s voter ID legislation in the state house. Fifteen ALEC members of the legislature have co-sponsored the bill. Reported the AP: “ALEC provided a copy of its voter ID model bill to The Associated Press. Kiffmeyer’s 2011 bill is not identical, though there are several similar sections about ID requirements, counting provisional ballots and issuing a free ID to those over 18 who don’t have a valid driver’s license.”