MN Supreme Court rules for GOP on constitutional amendment cases

The court hears arguments about amendment titles

Minnesota’s Supreme Court has ruled on challenges to two proposed amendments scheduled to be on this November’s election ballot. Both rulings side with Republican backed challenges by a 4-2 margin. One ruling rejects a challenge to the voter restriction, aka voter photo ID amendment that would have removed it from the ballot.

MN Supreme Court Ruling on Constitutional Amendment titles (PDF)
MN Supreme Court Ruling on Voter Restriction Amendment Language (PDF)

The other ruling says the title on both amendments must be the original ones passed by the Minnesota legislature.

The title given to the amendments are important since they could influence how people vote on them.

The court agreed 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.’ ”

The court also said while the ballot question says “all voters” must present photo ID to vote but essentially does not require that of absentee voters that is not reason to kick it off the ballot. The court ruled “Because all voters would present valid government-issued photographic identification or something that is virtually identical to such identification, the ballot question does not mislead voters to the extent that it is “ ‘a palpable evasion of the constitutional requirement to submit the law to a popular vote.’ ”

“it may indeed have been wiser for the Legislature to include the entire amendment on the ballot,” added the court. But it did not “second-guess” the legislature and order the entire amendment to be on the ballot.

During arguments at least one Justice practically begged the petitioners to ask the court if the voter restriction amendment was on its face unconstitutional because it restricted voting. However, the petitioners did not make that argument and the court noted it. “We express no opinion in this case as to the merits of changing Minnesota law to require photographic identification to vote; that question, as petitioners concede, is not presented in this case.”

Legislators had called the voter restirction amendment: “Photo Identification Required for Voting.” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie retitled it “Changes to In-person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots.”

Legislators had called the marriage restriction amendment: “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.” Secretary of State Ritchie’s retitled it “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.”

Amendment supporters hold news conference- click here to watch.

Blistering dissent and reaction

Justice Alan Page, writing the dissent called the voter restriction amendment ballot question “bait and switch”, “deceptive and misleading.”
“The plain language of the text of the proposed amendment passed by the Legislature differs markedly and materially from the proposed amendment the Legislature’s ballot question describes,” Page writes.

“The ballot question asks whether the Minnesota Constitution should be amended to require “all voters” to present photo identification. But the proposed amendment as drafted requires only “voters voting in person” to present photographic identification. Unless the Legislature intends to eliminate absentee voting and mail balloting—something that proponents of the proposed amendment steadfastly and specifically denied during the Legislature’s deliberations over the proposed amendment—“all voters” and “voters voting in person” are not the same. “All voters” includes “voters voting in person,” but “voters voting in person” does not include “all voters.” Voters voting by absentee and mail ballot do not vote in person. As a result, voters voting on the proposed amendment will not know from reading the ballot question that a “yes” vote will not in fact require “all voters” to show photographic identification in order to receive a ballot to vote. The ballot question is deceptive and misleading in that respect.”

“Furthermore, the court’s superficial analysis of the ballot question fails to do justice to our jurisprudence or to our role as a court.”

“I know of no other way to judge whether the Legislature’s ballot question misleads voters as to the language of the proposed amendment itself.”

“By portraying the proposed amendment as requiring photographic identification of “all voters”—when in fact, if passed, the amendment will not—the deceptive ballot question falsely induces those voters to vote in favor of the amendment.”

“That the ballot question is intended to bait and switch the voter and that the proposed amendment is not intended to require all voters to present photo identification of any kind, even if the proposed amendment passes, is confirmed by the very sponsors of the amendment themselves. During debate on the proposed amendment, Representative Mary Kiffmeyer, one of the House authors and sponsors of the proposed amendment, stated:

‘This Constitutional Amendment will allow absentee voting just as our current Constitutional language in Article 7 allows for absentee voting. This will continue that practice.
In your um . . . folders today I have a copy of the current absentee . . . ballot envelope, the exterior envelope. If you’ll note on that exterior envelope there is a place already to capture the Minnesota State identification card number, the driver’s license number, the last four digits of social security or a checkbox in case you don’t have any of those three at all.

‘And so you can see there already that this absentee ballot in its current form is already compliant with this Constitutional Amendment.’”
Hearing on H.F. 2738, H. Gov’t Operations and Elections Comm., 87th Minn. Leg.,

Page added that the proper remedy should be placing the entire text of the voter restriction amendment on the ballot.

Justice Paul H. Anderson joined Justice Page in dissenting and agreed with what Page suggested for a remedy. “the current Legislature has violated the Minnesota Constitution by refusing to put the text of a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 6, 2012 general election ballot.”

Anderson wrote “when the people of Minnesota cast their votes at the November 6 general election, their will, as expressed in Minnesota’s Constitution, will not be implemented. The people will not have before them the text of the proposed constitutional amendment. That text contains the critical information the Constitution requires for the people to validly give their consent; something the Legislature’s ballot question does not contain.”

“the ballot question proposed by the current Legislature is so inaccurate and misleading that it violates Article IX, section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution. The majority essentially admits that the ballot question is misleading, but claims the question does not violate our so-called “rigorous constitutionally misleading standard.” The majority is wrong. ”

“The current Legislature has proposed a ballot question so defective that it essentially strips the people of their right to consent to a substantial change to the Minnesota Constitution.”

Reaction from groups who brought the case
The League of Women voters was one of the groups that petitioned the court to remove the voter restriction amendment because it was “misleading.” A statement from the League says in part:

“Today’s decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court will make it harder for voters to make an informed choice on constitutional amendments on the ballot this year and in the future. Because of the Court’s ruling that the Minnesota Legislature has the authority to write ballot questions with wide latitude, voters need to be aware that amendment questions that are misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete can be placed on their ballots.”

Jewish Community Action was also one of those petitioning the court on the voter restriction amendment. The group vowed to renew its efforts to defeat the amendment.

The Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union which had filed a brief supporting the League and the JCA in the court fight said it was “disappointed and surprised” by today’s Minnesota Supreme Court ruling.

“The ACLU is disappointed in that the Court allowed a false and misleading amendment to stay on the ballot,” stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN.

“The Minnesota State Legislature wasn’t telling voters the truth about its proposed photo ID requirement for voting, and they have a right to know,” said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “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.”

Reaction from groups opposing amendments
Take Action Minnesota which is opposing both amendments issued a statement:
“Today’s ruling by the Minnesota State Supreme Court does nothing to change the controversial and divisive nature of the proposed Voter Restriction Amendment. The State Legislature was reckless when they passed this proposal that would end Election Day Registration and Absentee Voting as we know it, and stick voters with a $50 million price tag. Unfortunately today’s ruling does not give voters the benefit of fully knowing what they are voting on or how it will adversely affect them. As voters peel back the layers of the Voter Restriction Amendment they are discovering that, like an onion, it stinks. We continue to see grassroots momentum grow in opposition to this proposed amendment and we are confident that it can be defeated. ”

Our Vote Our Future issued a statement which reads in:
“As the state with the highest rate of voter participation in the country, Minnesota is blessed with the most engaged and informed electorate in our nation. Without a doubt, Minnesotans will take the time to educate themselves on the harmful effects of this amendment with the help of our campaign and the statewide network of organizations, community leaders and individuals who are opposed to this amendment.

“We believe that the question as written does not fully address the complete overhaul of Minnesota’s election system that is being proposed. Minnesotans deserve to know the full extent of changes and cost increases, which this amendment would incur.

“The Secretary of State has a duty to Minnesota voters to make sure they find accurate language on the ballots before them. He exercised that duty in appropriately naming the amendment to more closely reflect what the proponents intend to do to our elections process. Thus, it is disappointing that the court did not uphold the Secretary’s title as assigned.

“We respect the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision and look forward to continuing our statewide campaign educating voters of the harmful effects of this unnecessary, extreme and expensive overhaul of Minnesota’s election system.”

Minnesotans United For All Families is a group opposing the marriage restriction amendment that is on the ballot. It issued this statement about the court ordering the titles revert to the original ones written by the Republican legislature

“At the end of the day, Minnesotans will vote on the question at hand. Our campaign has been focused since day one on having one million conversations with Minnesotans about what marriage means and why no one would want to be told it’s illegal to marry the person you love. We will continue to stay focused on that goal in our efforts to defeat this hurtful amendment.”

Secretary of State Reaction

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie issued a statement after the ruling.
“I thank the Supreme Court for its prompt action on this legal challenge to the law first passed by the state legislature in 1919, affirmed in 1981, directing the Secretary of State to title proposed constitutional amendments.

“My office will continue working closely with local elections officials to ensure that ballots are prepared and delivered to our servicemen and women and other absentee voters so they have the time they need to fully participate in our elections.

“I urge all voters to become familiar with the candidates on the November ballot and on the two constitutional amendments. The actual language proposed to be added to Minnesota’s Constitution will not appear on the ballot according to this court decision but can be found on the Office of the Secretary of State website at www.mnvotes.org.”

I urge all voters to become familiar with the candidates on the November ballot and on the two constitutional amendments. The actual language proposed to be added to Minnesota’s Constitution will not appear on the ballot according to this court decision but can be found on the Office of the Secretary of State website at www.mnvotes.org.”

    Our primary commenting system uses Facebook logins. If you wish to comment without having a Facebook account, please create an account on this site and log in first. If you are already a registered user, just scroll up to the log in box in the right hand column and log in.

    Michael McIntee's picture
    Michael McIntee