Testimony taken on voter ID bills

All Minnesotans would be required to show a government-issued photo ID card before voting, under a pair of bills laid over by a House committee.

HF89, sponsored by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester), and HF201, sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), would both require voters to produce photo identification at their polling place before receiving a ballot. Kiffmeyer's bill also provides for electronic polling place rosters and would make various other changes to election statutes.

Members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee took public testimony on the bills, but laid them over without acting on them. Chairwoman Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said a committee vote is planned for Feb. 8.

Both bills are modeled after an Indiana law requiring photo ID at the polls. They would eliminate the state's voucher system, where voters who cannot provide the appropriate documentation can be vouched for to register to vote, and provide for a provisional balloting system for registered voters who cannot produce their photo IDs.

Supporters said the bills would improve the integrity of the state's elections, and cited polls that show broad public support for a requirement. Benson said requiring photo ID would boost the public's confidence in election results.

"Letting people vote without a photo ID creates the ideal conditions for fraud," Benson said. "It is in fact very easy to impersonate someone if you don't have to prove who you are."

Opponents argued the bill would wrongfully discriminate against senior citizens, students, disabled voters and those who frequently change residences. They argued a provision to supply free photo ID cards to voters who can't afford another state-issued ID would not help those who have limited mobility and resources to obtain them.

"There's no question that these bills will disenfranchise thousands of senior citizens," said Mary Lou Hill, a 94-year-old resident and member of the League of Women Voters.

Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) likened the bills' photo ID requirement to a "poll tax" that created obstacles to voting for specific groups of people.

Neither bill has a Senate companion.

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