ACLU ups the ante in Minnesota voter photo ID debate

7:21 PM, Feb 13, 2012   |    comments
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SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The American Civil Liberties Union is using a cash reward to make a point about how clean Minnesota's elections system is.

Chuck Samuelson, who heads ACLU of Minnesota, carried $1,000 in cash to a State Capitol press conference Monday and offered it to anyone who can prove a case of voter impersonation in this state in the past 10 years.

"You must have proof of a legal charge, indictment or conviction for voter impersonation since January 1 of 2002," Samuelson told reporters. "Anecdotes, hearsay and unsubstantiated claims will not be accepted."

Samuelson asserted that cases of people posing as other voters -- the type of fraud voter ID systems are designed to prevent -- are virtually nonexistent in Minnesota.

"If you can't find a crime, why change the law?" Samuelson remarked. "Do we want to assume everyone is guilty of voter impersonation? And set a system up that's going to stop them from committing a crime we haven't been able to find yet?"

Governor Dayton vetoed a bill last session that would've required voters to show current photo ID at the polling place, and would've established a computer network enabling real time online checks against a statewide registration database.

Dayton said he feared the system would result in thousands of persons being disenfranchised, including the poor, frail elderly, college students and other highly mobile persons who change addresses often due to personal circumstances.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis Democrat, echoed that sentiment Monday.

"It would turn back history," Hayden said. "We saw all of the great fights we had over voter rights and other issues. And this would turn back history."

Now many Republicans are determined to bypass Dayton by sending the voter photo ID issue directly to voters through a proposed constitutional amendment.

"We agree it should be easy to vote in Minnesota, but it should also be equally hard to cheat," said Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority, the conservative action group working to get the photo ID amendment on the ballot and into the Minnesota Constitution.

He said it's nearly impossible to prove voter impersonation, so he doesn't expect to personally collect the ACLU's reward money.

"In Minnesota, with Election Day registration and personal vouching, it is possible to create an identity out of whole cloth," McGrath explained. "It's not impersonation. It's a fictitious identity."

McGrath said if he were to vote as "Bob Smith" the authorities would look for Bob Smith instead of him.  That scenario would require him to register as Bob Smith using false documents.

"Fictitious voting happens, but it's impossible to catch the perpetrator," McGrath said.

Minnesota Majority conducted an exhaustive cross-check of 2008 voting records and criminal records of released felons, in an effort to prove voter fraud and build a case for voter photo ID.

The research led to criminal charges against at least 160 released felons who voted illegally before they had finished their supervised release period, Minnesota's term for parole.

Those felons did not use fake ID, or pretend to be something else. They simply registered and voted before their rights had been restored, which is a felony in Minnesota.

But McGrath's work uncovering those voters has enabled him to challenge the integrity of the voting system in Minnesota, and plant doubt in the minds of conservatives nationally.

"The Amendment would address felons too," McGrath said. "Eligibility verification would mean equal standards for all voters, whether you register ahead of the election or on Election Day."

Critics of the amendment argue the way to solve the problem of felons voting illegally is to adopt the system used in North Dakota, where released felons are eligible to vote as soon as they're released from incarceration.

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

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