Voter ID bill leaves student ID question unanswered

1:08 AM, Sep 21, 2012   |    comments
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ID swiped at Voter ID test site

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The wording of the proposed voter photo ID amendment doesn't specific exactly what types of government photo ID will be accepted by poll workers, if measure passes and is added to the state constitution.

The amendment states that voters must present "valid, government-issued photographic identification" in order to receive a regular ballot.  The new elections system will go into effect in the summer of 2013, if approved by voters in November.

Those without the valid ID -- or those who lack documents to prove they currently live in the precinct -- will be issued provisional ballots that will be counted only after their identities and residency can be verified.

"There's a debate about what a valid government-issued ID is and whether the legislature will get to determine that," Beth Fraser, head of government affairs for the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office, told KARE Thursday.

"Is a valid government-issued photo ID one issued by the State of Minnesota, the United States government, or Hoboken, New Jersey City Council?" she asked, rhetorically.

"This is a government issued photo ID," Fraser said, showing her state employee photo ID card. "Would this allow me to vote? I mean that's up for debate."

Current Minnesota law allows college students to vote absentee in their home precincts, or to register in the precinct where they're going to school.  They can use student ID cards to register in advance, or on Election Day if they run out of time.

The term "government-issued" leaves open the question of whether student IDs issued by state colleges and university will be accepted by poll workers.  It appears that IDs issued by private colleges would not fall into that government category.

"During the legislative debates that was specifically brought up for private college students," Fraser added. "Because people that go to Concordia, or Bethel, or St. Olaf for example, their student ID's are clearly not government issued."

Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, the group leading the push for the Voter Photo ID amendment told KARE it's clear that most student ID's won't be accepted in the new system.

But he took issue with the notion that ID's will have to reflect a current address to be accepted at polling places.

"The amendment says nothing about the voters addresses, only that they present valid ID. People who move into a new precinct will still be able to present their ID."

Several college students who stopped to talk to KARE Thursday outside a pizza parlor in St. Paul said they planned to vote in their parents' precincts in November, either in person or by absentee ballot.

Alison Friel, a student at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, said she would vote at home.  She was already registered and has a valid drivers license, so felt prepared for the Voter ID amendment should it become law.

"I hope it doesn't become law. I'm planning to vote against it," Friel told KARE.

"Most college students don't know how this is going to work. And it's just a ploy to get those who would normally vote left wing, basically, to not vote."

Macalester student Josh Azure said he hadn't decided where he would register, but said he felt comfortable he had several of the documents required by current law and the amendment, should it pass.

University of St. Thomas student Joe Morrissey said he'd rather not get a Minnesota ID, because his Nebraska drivers license is valid for some time to come.  He said he's probably going to vote absentee in Omaha this year.

If he were to run out of time to do that, however, he does have the option of registering in a precinct near the St. Paul campus. And his St. Thomas ID card would be accepted.

He could also sign an oath attesting to the fact that he lives in the precinct, if another voter from the precinct vouches for him. If the amendment passes such personal vouching will no longer be accepted for those registering to vote on election day.

The only other state to place a voter ID requirement in the constitution is Mississippi, which built in exceptions for persons in nursing homes and overseas absentee voters.

Minnesota's version contains no such exceptions, and specifies that all voters -- including those not voting in person -- are subject to "substantially equivalent eligibility and identification verification" as all other voters.

The Republican lawmakers who passed the bill placing the voter ID amendment on the ballot have argued that they can pass a bill during the 2013 session that will answer all the lingering questions about how the new system will work.

Some skeptics of the amendment say it will be legally difficult for legislators to add new features to an amendment once it's in the state constitution.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed or retransmitted.)

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