Minnesota Supreme Court justices peppered lawyers with pointed questions about the right to vote and the Legislature’s power as the volatile issue of photo ID landed at the state’s highest court Tuesday. “The right to vote is an institutional way to peacefully revolt,” said Justice Paul Anderson, who criticized parts of the proposed constitutional amendment. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this.” The stakes indeed are high. The League of Women Voters-Minnesota and other plaintiffs are asking the court to strike the issue completely from the Nov. 6 general election ballot, arguing that the question voters will see is misleading. The Republican-controlled Legislature, which voted to put the issue on the ballot, says that writing ballot questions is its sole prerogative, and that voters have a right to make the ultimate decision. Justices Paul Anderson, Alan Page and David Stras raised questions about differences between the language of the ballot question and language of the proposed constitutional amendment, which voters will not see on the ballot. “Don’t the people have a right to vote on something that’s not deceptive?” said Anderson. Page suggested that differences between the language of the ballot question and the actual amendment constituted “a bit of bait and switch. It seems to me, in responding to the ballot question, I can’t know what I’m voting on,” Page said.
At issue is whether the ballot question, as worded, fairly describes the amendment, and whether the court has any role in the dispute. The League of Women Voters notes that the ballot question contains no reference to major changes such as a new system of provisional balloting, new eligibility standards for some voters and the fact that the IDs must be “government-issued.” But Stras and others, including Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, cited laws that give the Legislature the power to submit ballot questions to voters. And they wondered how the court could “fix” the ballot question without creating other constitutional problems.
In a colloquy with the Legislature’s attorney, Thomas Boyd, Anderson asked, “Would you agree that this amendment affects voting rights?” “It does, your honor,” replied Boyd. “And voting rights are a fundamental right — is that correct?” Anderson asked. “It is a fundamental right, just as the right to vote on a constitutional amendment is a fundamental right. … ” Boyd replied before Anderson cut him off.