I grew up with an eye on Minnesota politics and spent summers interning at the state capitol watching the floor debates on TV; but on July 17th in Saint Paul I had a front row seat. The Minnesota Supreme court heard a challenge to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require valid, state-issued photo identification for voting in Minnesota, and I was courtside. The room was abuzz and the Justices were beyond well-prepared. The lawyers on both sides had barely introduced their arguments when the storm of questions rained down from the bench and struck to the core of the issue. It was intimidating. At trial was whether the amendment question, as it is being put to the voters, is misleading. The lawsuit, brought by the League of Women voters and a coalition including Jewish Community Action (where I am on staff as an organizer), was argued by Bill Pentalovich and a team from Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand. The last case that I heard Bill Pentalovich argue was a mock trial of Abraham held at Adath Jeshurun’s Shabbat Morning Program when I was a bar mitzvah student. Abe didn’t stand a chance. To bring down photo ID, the team from Maslon argued that the discrepancy between the ballot question and the actual amendment is deceptive and should be struck from the ballot. The short ballot question does not accurately reflect the drastic impact that the amendment will have on our voting system.
One in six Minnesota voters would likely be affected by this change, including the elderly, service members oversees and communities of color that have been historically excluded from voting. If passed, an entirely new system of provisional balloting would need to be enacted. Our same-date voter registration system, the reason that Minnesota has the highest voter participation in the country, will be upended.
The cost to the state is estimated at millions of dollars up front, with more in the future, and it will likely lead to an increase in property taxes. And most astonishing of all, we will not know exactly what we are voting on, as it has been left to the 2013 legislature to determine what a new system will look like. The language that voters will see on the ballot won’t reflect any of that. We won’t know what we are voting on.