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Senate approves voter photo ID

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ST. PAUL -- Showing photo identification before voting may be inconvenient, but the senator sponsoring a proposal to require voter photo ID says it is worth it.

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"I will willingly admit that there is some burden placed on some of our citizens in exercising their right to vote," Senator Scott Newman said Friday before Minnesota senators voted 36-30 mostly along party lines to require photo IDs. "On balance, I believe this [constitutional] amendment is the right thing to do."

The bill will go to Minnesota voters in the November 6 election if House and Senate negotiators can work out minor differences between the versions they passed last week.

The Republican-backed proposal is to insert the requirement into the state Constitution. Senators debated the issue five hours after the House earlier this week spent nine hours on the measure.

With hundreds of anti-photo ID protesters shouting outside the Senate chambers, Newman began the debate discussing numerous news accounts of voter fraud across Minnesota.

Voter fraud could be avoided if a photo ID is required, Newman said. Also, the Hutchinson Republican said, the plan would modernize the election system and "safeguard voter confidence."

Democrats said there is little evidence of voter fraud and requiring photo IDs would mean elderly, those in nursing homes, homeless and other disadvantaged Minnesotans may not vote.

Republicans said since the proposal requires the state to provide free photo IDs that is not a valid argument.

However, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said people such as those who live in the state's five veterans' homes cannot get out to obtain a photo ID.

"The fact that our veterans are not going to be able to vote bothers me quite a bit." Bakk said.

Senators rejected on a 36-30 vote a Bakk proposal that exempted veterans' home residents from the photo ID requirement.

Rural Democratic senators said they worry that photo ID could kill mail-in voting in their areas.

"There is a lot of fear out there in townships," Senator Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick said, because there are few answers about how mail-in ballots would be affected.

Republicans rejected a Senator Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, proposal to remove the photo ID requirement on mail votes.

Senator John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said he lives in a mail-in precinct and he does not worry about the issue. If voters pass the amendment in November, next year's Legislature will work out details about mail-in ballots and other issues, Carlson said.

"It is a bad idea to create barriers to voting," Senator Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said.

She said that the way Newman's bill is written it would eliminate election day voter registration. Newman disagreed, but said a same-day registrant would be required to produce an ID later before a ballot is counted.

Ballots that are counted after election day would make election outcomes uncertain for days or weeks, Democrats said.

Senators accepted 63-3 a Senator John Howe, R-Red Wing, amendment to allow for "an equivalent" for a government-issued photo ID to be used, an attempt to accept new technology not known about today and to accept IDs from places like private colleges.

"As technology advances, so should our ability under the Minnesota Constitution," Howe said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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