Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie campaigned for office six years ago pledging that he would halt the “playing politics with the office.” And now the state’s highest court will decide whether he is doing just that. With his every move scrutinized, Ritchie, a DFLer, opted to change the titles of two ballot amendments that would ban same-sex marriage and change the state’s voting system to require photo IDs and institute provisional balloting at the polls. Opponents say Ritchie’s wording is a clear injection of the bias he claims he wants to keep out of the office, but Ritchie says he is describing the amendments accurately and is within the law. “Is it uncomfortable to be the object of anger and controversy?” Ritchie said. “Yes. But I’m very thick-skinned.” Ultimately, he said, “following the law is a very comfortable position.”
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether the photo ID question should appear on the ballot at all. Amendment opponents say the wording is overly simplistic and misleads voters. Later this month, it will hear arguments over whether Ritchie properly changed the marriage amendment title. In the court case to be heard on Tuesday, amendment opponents sued Ritchie to stop the photo ID question from appearing on the ballot. They say the amendment question lawmakers wrote misinforms about all the ways it would change voting in Minnesota. Ritchie told the court he would not defend the question. His duty, he said, was to see ballots printed, “not to take a side.” Republican legislators and groups supporting the amendment will argue the question should stand.
But Ritchie has taken a side on amendment’s title. This summer he told activists at the DFL state convention that it was “ridiculous” to contend the amendment just requires voters to present identification. Last week, he announced that the amendment’s title would no longer be “Photo Identification Required for Voting,” as the Legislature wanted. Instead, Ritchie said the title would be “Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots.” Amendment supporters may yet sue over that.