Minnesota Supreme Court allows voter ID question on November ballot

[JURIST] The Minnesota Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that a question on voter identification can be put to referendum in November, disregarding protests from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) [advocacy website]. The ACLU-MN challenged the initiative [JURIST report] in May, claiming that the ballot initiative, which would amend the Minnesota constitution [text] to require photo ID in order to vote, is worded in "a manner that is misleading, confusing and unclear." The Supreme Court unanimously rejected these concerns:

But petitioners argue, among other things, that the ballot question is misleading because there is a difference between "valid government-issued photographic identification," as required in the proposed amendment, and "valid photographic identification," as required in the ballot question. We agree with petitioners that there is a difference between a "government-issued photographic identification," and a "valid photographic identification." That the ballot question reads differently than the proposed amendment, however, does not render the ballot question "'so unreasonable and misleading as to be a palpable evasion of the constitutional requirement to submit'" the proposed constitutional amendment" 'to a popular vote.'"

Petitioners also argue that the ballot question is misleading because it indicates that "all voters" will be required to present "valid photographic identification," when in fact, according to petitioners, the proposed amendment requires that only some voters (namely, those voting in person) present valid photographic identification. This argument is unpersuasive. Petitioners read the ballot question as narrowly referencing only the obligations placed by the proposed amendment on voters voting in person, and therefore conclude that the question is misleading because it states that the proposed amendment will require all voters to present photographic identification. But the ballot question does not refer specifically to only the portion of the proposed amendment that will affect voters voting in person, and petitioners are simply wrong in arguing that the proposed amendment requires only those voting in person to submit photographic identification.

Although the court was unanimous that the ballot initiative was not misleading, two judges dissented on the grounds that the ballot initiative is harmful and constricts constitutional rights otherwise, one particularly calling it a "bait and switch." The ACLU-MN lambasted the opinion [press release], saying, "Not only is this part of a wave of laws that have already had a severe impact on the right to vote nationwide, but this particular amendment effectively spells the end of Election Day registration, which significantly increases turnout."

The text of the initiative, which will appear on the November ballot as planned, is as follows: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo ID to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?" The ACLU-MN had several issues with this question, including that it would end election day registration but does not state that specifically, and mischaracterizes who will need to present an ID. The referendum also suggests that any photo ID that is not government-issued—such as a school or work ID—would be permissible, when that is not the case. If passed, the initiative will add the following language to the Minnesota constitution:

(b) All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law.
(c) All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.
There are now 32 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of photo identification [JURIST news archive] at the polls. Many of these regulations were enacted in the last year. Legislation on the various laws, and new bills, are also pending in 32 states. Originally, the state legislature of Minnesota had sent the law to Governor Mark Dayton, who vetoed it [Twin Cities report] in April, calling it "unwise and unnecessary."

 

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