Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake and Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove unveiled the Republican plan to overhaul the state’s voting system at a press conference on Wednesday. Among the proposed changes are the elimination of vouching, implementation of a photo identification system, a ban on health care workers assisting voters in the booth, and massive changes to the recount process. Most of the changes reflect complaints by the conservative group Minnesota Majority, which Kiffmeyer ran several years ago.
Kiffmeyer said that the new system unveiled today has stood up to court challenges.
“This is a concept, modeled on the Indiana voting system which has been ruled constitutional by the Indiana Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court,” she said. “This is a system that I think is good for Minnesotans.”
Limmer added that they are proposing the changes because Minnesotans increasingly don’t trust the voting system. “I am excited about being a part of this major revision of Minnesota election law,” he said. “We hear from citizens who are growing suspicious of our election process.”
Among the changes proposed in the bill include the requirement of photo identification for voters. Under the bill, an electronic registration system would be set up that would scan IDs at the polling place. Voters would then be required to sign a receipt that would be printed off.
“This is a receipt that has value and meaning,” Kiffmeyer said. “I think the court case that was in the news in regards to voter receipts… This addresses that concern that was well in the news and well talked about.”
Kiffmeyer was referring to a petition filed by the Republican Party to the Minnesota Supreme Court in the Minnesota gubernatorial recount which tried to force counties to count names on the voter roster instead of voter receipts. The court rejected the GOP case.
Kiffmeyer said that the costs of setting up an electronic voting system haven’t been determined yet, but that the the state of Minnesota would pick up the tab.
Low-income individuals could get the IDs for free at any Department of Public Safety office. When asked about people who are physically unable to get to a DPS office to get an ID, Kiffmeyer didn’t have an easy answer. “Those folks are in a very unique special circumstance,” she said adding that there are some details to work out. “We will be meeting with folks,” she said.
Should the measure pass, vouching would become a thing of the past in Minnesota, and same-day registration would require the same photo ID requirements as a registered voter.
The bill also spells out new ballot handling requirements.
Limmer said the bill was intended to fix the alleged problem of ballots discovered in the trunks of cars.
“When we, a few short years ago, were trying to validate the Franken-Coleman election, we find a box of ballots in the trunk of someone’s car,” he said. “That has not been corrected since that time. This would correct that.”
A reporter noted, however, that the incident never happened.
Limmer brushed that fact off and added, “There’s a history of discrepancies in balloting in certain precincts. It seems like it’s a constant that is highlighted by close elections.”
Other provisions in the bill would change Minnesota election law. If passed, the bill would prohibit voting assistance by “the voter’s court-appointed guardian or conservator” or “any paid individual providing health care or health-related personal assistance to the voter.”
That law change has been sought by Minnesota Majority, a group that has been touting an unsubstantiated claim that a health care worker in Crow Wing County voted for people with developmental disabilities and that people who did not have the mental capacity to vote cast ballots in the last election. An investigation found no evidence that those claims were true.
Another subtle change appears to be geared toward Minnesota Majority. The ban on wearing political attire in polling plaes would only be banned “if it is designed to influence voting for or against a particular candidate, political party, or question on the ballot at the election.”
The previous law was more broad and prevented Minnesota Majority’s “Please ID Me” buttons and Tea Party regalia from being worn in the polling place.
Kiffmeyer was the executive director of Minnesota Majority as recently as 2008, and she was Secretary of State prior to DFLer Mark Ritchie.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ritchie criticized the bill.
“This omnibus bill contains a wide range of expansive and expensive election law changes,” he said. “Careful research and analysis of this bill will certainly be necessary to determine the exact cost and impact on local and state governments.”
He said that implementing an electronic voting system in Minnesota could cost as much as $20 million.
“The bill’s implications will also be analyzed by groups who would be affected including absentee and military voters, seniors, and voters with disabilities,” he said. “At a time when lawmakers are looking to streamline government and create efficiencies, HF 210 includes many proposals that would significantly increase the state’s budget deficit and create higher on-going costs for cities, counties and townships.”
The DFL offered its own press conference on Wednesday.
“This proposal is a risk that we cannot afford,” said Rep. Steve Simon of Hopkins. “There’s a very real prospect that tens of thousands of law-abiding Minnesotans will be fenced out of the voting process.”
He said that voter fraud in Minnesota is very low, and in the last election 100 percent of the convictions were for felons voting illegally.
“How will voter ID at the polls impact felons from voting when felons already have ID cards?” he asked.
Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley agreed. “This bill does nothing to address felon voting.”
“The real reason the Republicans are pushing a photo ID bill is because they think that’s the best and most effective way to block voters from the polls that they think are going to vote for Democrats,” he said. “This is a partisan ploy.”