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Hopkins Representative Debates Voter ID Bill in St. Louis Park

More than 100 turned out to hear both sides discuss legislation calling for a new system by 2012.

One would think in light of all the issues facing the current session of the Minnesota State Legislature, such as a roughly $5 billion budget deficit, the proposal to have a photo ID be required to vote would not draw a lot of interest—especially with a debate on the topic being staged at 9:30 on a Saturday morning.

Tell that to the well more than 100 people who showed up March 26 to hear two legislators debate the subject.

Several local chapters of the League of Women Voters hosted a forum at the St. Louis Park City Hall, as Hopkins Rep. Steve Simon (D–District 44A), of St. Louis Park, debated Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R–District 16B), of Big Lake. 

Kiffmeyer is the chief author of H.F. 210, a bill which would require all voters to have a current photo ID in order to receive a ballot. If passed into law, it would go into effect June 1, 2012.

Simon said the idea is good in theory but worries it would “fence out” a significant number of eligible voters—such as the disabled, those in the military serving overseas and college students living away from home.

“Right now, roughly one-fourth of our citizens don’t have an up-to-date photo ID,” he said. “Also, a recent study from the 2008 election showed that throughout Minnesota, there were only 38 cases of voter fraud and all of them were felons who cannot vote by law.

“If I had a bumper sticker slogan for this it would be ‘tiny problem, huge price tag’ at a time when we are struggling financially.”

Kiffmeyer, who previously served as Minnesota Secretary of State — the officer that oversees voting in Minnesota — said the matter of current voter fraud grew out of the controversy in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

“Recent court rulings uphold the right of a state to require photo IDs for voters, including the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the Indiana State Supreme Court,” she said.

Kiffmeyer said she is open to amendments, which would make it easier for those who are disabled, living in battered women’s shelters and in nursing homes to be able to vote.

“In the end, photo IDs strengthen the integrity of an election and there is a sizable majority of Minnesotans who support it,” she said.

Simon argued that Minnesota has historically had the highest turnout of voters in the country. Beth Fraser, director of governmental affairs for the Secretary of State’s office, gave a list of roughly a dozen steps now in place to check the validity of a person claiming “to be who they say they are” insofar as being a legitimate voter. She and Simon both talked about the vouching system, in which a person who knows a first-time, unregistered voter can vouch for that person's identity and get him or her a ballot.

Kiffmeyer countered by saying “there is a reason 48 states in the union do not allow a vouching process as we do in Minnesota.”

When asked later if Gov. Mark Dayton would approve or veto the legislation if it reaches his desk this session, Simon said, “I won’t pretend to speak for the governor, but my feeling is he's somewhat suspect of the bill.”

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