Thursday, February 02, 2012

Voter ID amendment is a pig in a poke

Photo by the author
Yesterday, Spot and I attended the Voter ID hearding at the Capitol, joined by over a hundred other folks who were overwhelmingly opposed to the amendment. Many gave the Senate Elections committee an earful about the disenfranchising effect of an ID requirement to vote. These testifiers represented the 215,000 currently registered voters without ID, according to the Secretary of State's office. And the folks who would be affected the most were the disabled, the blind, immigrants, the elderly, students, and the homeless. Of course, this had little impact on the Republican members of the committee.

And there was a lot of new information to share.

First, the Voter ID amendment was amended. Here are some of the important changes:

1) An effective date of July 30, 2013: Representatives of the Association of Minnesota Counties testified that this deadline would be nearly impossible to meet, since it would be up to the 2013 Legislature to clarify the amendment through legislation.
2) The insertion of the phrase "as much as is practicable": Bill author Senator Newman testified this was intended to provide flexibility, but as a practical matter it will be up to the courts to decide what's "practicable."

The end of these two items highlight the biggest procedural problem with this amendment. Not only is it bad policy, if it passes it will force the legislature to pass a statute that implements the amendment, and then there would undoubtedly be a court battle about that. In fact, Newman's primary response to "red herring" concerns like "what would be acceptable forms of ID?" and "how much would it cost?" was "it depends on what the next Legislature does." And then there's a real conundrum - what happens if the amendment passes, the Legislature passes a Voter ID statute and Governor Dayton vetoes it? The courts would then have to step in to provide guidance to local election officials trapped between the Minnesota Constitution and the existing election statutes. It would be a mess of the highest order.

This is why legislating by amendment is a bad idea. In fact, it's not even legislating by amendment, it is amending to force legislation. This is not only an end run around the Governor, it ensures that people will be voting to support or oppose legislation that hasn't even been written yet. The Voter ID amendment is truly a pig in a poke.

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