Governor Pawlenty announced on Wednesday his “Voter Security Initiative” that will have voters needing to show citizenship verification and photo identification at the polls. The Governor said that the steps would improve the state’s electoral system, prevent voter fraud and ensure the legitimacy of elections in Minnesota.
Since the last statewide general election, the Secretary of State’s Office has evidence that 32 non-citizens registered to vote and 11 of these individuals voted. All of these suspected cases were referred to the respective county attorneys’ offices for investigation and prosecution.
“Evidence has recently been discovered suggesting that non-citizens are registering and voting in Minnesota elections. These cases highlight a threat to the legitimacy of our democracy and the need for change,” Governor Pawlenty said. “Our citizen verification system needs an upgrade. We need a voting system that makes it easy to vote but hard to cheat.”
DFL Chair Brian Melendez called the move unconstitutional and an “election-year gimmick,” for addressing this issue now after four years, and just 40 days from the election.
Using a sample of 32 voters (0.00103 percent of 3,090,921 registered voters in Minnesota) to justify photo identification is “using a cannon to swat a fly,” said Melendez.
“You may succeed in killing the fly, but you’re going to do a lot of other damage in the process,” he added. “While even one person voting illegally is a cause for concern, the solution should be to seek accountability in the secretary of state’s office – not to make voting a more difficult process for thousands of Minnesotans.”
With regard to citizenship verification, the Governor is directing the Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services to routinely share citizen status check information from driver’s licenses, permits and identification cards with the Secretary of State’s office’s voting database to determine possible voter fraud. Minnesota will be one of the only states in the country to verify voters’ citizenship status.
The Governor is also seeking legislation to require election judges to confirm voters’ identities by asking them to show a picture ID card issued by a federal, state or recognized tribal government before casting their vote. To ensure polling access, some exceptions are provided and free IDs would be made available. The Governor’s plan also includes several exemptions for persons who, despite the availability of free IDs, do not possess the required photo identification on Election Day.
“Effective, accurate and lawful voter registration and voter identification are the foundation of our representative democracy,” Governor Pawlenty said.
“The Governor’s proposal will erode voter participation, particularly the poor, minorities, and immigrants voters who tend to favor Democrats,” said State Representative Cy Thao (65A), who praised Minnesota’s strong tradition of civic participation. “This is nothing more than a ploy to make sure traditional allies of the Democrats do not participate in the voting process this coming November when the Governor will be up for re-election.
“Instead of trying to suppress minority and immigrant voters at the ballot box, he should try to win their votes with good policies,” he added. “There are harsh penalties already in place for those trying to vote illegally. One of the penalties is deportation. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would risk getting deported to just vote for me.”