Minnesota Majority’s Dan McGrath inaccurately implied ID petition for variance free, misled on vouching


In last night’s Debate Minnesota forum between Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath and ISAIAH Project executive director Doran Schrantz, McGrath made two curious claims about the petition for variance and the vouching process.

The facts that undercut his claims illustrate that the case for restricting voters in Minnesota isn’t exactly what McGrath and others say it is.

About the petition for variance:

First, he implied that a petition of variance for an photo ID was free. McGrath starts talking about how those who currently have no ID could obtain them, beginning at the 26.36 minute mark.

. . .for those few who do lack identification–I know a couple of people who don’t have it–they’ll be provided with an identification at no charge, it’s going to be at state expense. I expect the state will pay somewhere around $2 million the first year in order to get those people indentification.

To the individual. there’s no cost. Some have suggested there couldbe costs if they have to get a birth certificate, if there’s something like that in order to get the identification card.

So he recognises that getting the documents for the “free” ID card might cost something, but at the 27:00 mark, he implies that that wouldn’t be a problem, since the petition for variance is available:

But: if you don’t have . . . a birth certificate, if you have extraordinary difficulty in obtaining a birth certificate or other supporting documents that you need to get your identification, there’s already a process in place in current state law called a petition for variance, that enables people in those circumstances to get id without those primary and secondary documents. It takes a little longer to get your id because the Department of Public Safety has to check out your story but ultimately, it’s no cost to the voter and it’s minimal cost to the state for election integrity…

McGrath fails to note that there’s a charge for the petition itself.

As Bluestem outlined the problem and the process earlier in the week in Minnesota Majority’s Dan McGrath mansplains voter restriction to local election judge.

There’s reason to be annoyed with McGrath . . . Perhaps the most disconcerting is this assertion:

99% of people have the documents they need to get ID already. For the rest, there’s a one page form called petition for variance available from DVS to allow people who don’t have a birth certificate, etc an ID. Do you really think there’s any valid person in Minnesota who couldn’t get a valid ID? The state already has procedures for unusual circumstances.

. . .Bluestem contacted Carolyn Jackson, lobbying coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota with questions about the petition for variance.

Lawyer that she is, Jackson outlined three civil rights problems inherent in McGrath’s suggestion:

  • A citizen must pay $10 for the petition for variance (The cost of the variance, when applied to voting, would be an unconstitutional poll tax)
  • The variance is granted at the discretion of government (the rights of American citizens are not discretionary)
  • DVS staffing levels are such that the investigation required for granting a petition is not a high priority and thus an investigation may take up to 30 days; should more petitions be filed, the average time could increase and exceed the system’s capacity (due process)).

However, the form requires documentation–for instance, if one’s name has been changed:

Evidence required for name change.

If you have changed your legal full name as it appears on the presented primary document you must also present legal name change documents.

To verify the name change, you must present one of the following documents:

(1) A copy of the applicant’s certificate of marriage certified by the issuing government jurisdiction;

(2) A certified copy of a court order specifying the name change; or

(3) A certified copy of a divorce decree or dissolution of marriage granted the applicant that specifies the name changes requested from a court of competent jurisdiction.

The instructions for the one page form are two pages long, listing documentation. It’s not a simple as it seems.

Pat McCormick, Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services, testified to the Government Operations and Elections Committee, on Thursday, March 8, 2012:

. . .It’s a very time-consuming process and that’s why there’s a fee for it. And I can tell you that in the last year, we had 840 requests for variances, 586 were granted and 260 were denied.

There’s very specific criteria that our department has to look at in terms of approving a variance because you know we’re talking about documents that are identity documents and we have to be sure that we’re preventing fraud because drivers licenses are not only used for driving in today’s world and so we have to be sure that it’s secure and the people are who they say they are.

So we do have that process in place but it takes a lot of time…We have thirty days in which we can make a decision about a variance. We try to turn them around in three days but what I mean by turning them around is starting a discussion with an applicant because oftentimes we have to work back and forth with applicants to get the right documents to get to prove that they are who they say they are.

We have to work with the Social Security Administration, it’s not a simple process. . . .[transcipt of House hearing audiotape]

So that one-page form? It’s not a simple process, though Dan McGrath and Minnesota Majority wants you to believe that it is.

Nor is it free, nor an end-around paying for obtaining documents like a birth certificate.

About vouching:

Then there’s McGrath’s confusion about the use of vouching in same-day registration. At the 1:22:21 point in The Uptake’s video, moderator Bill Salisbery asks:

Mr. MGrath, I believe you mentioned that if we did have the voter ID requirement, we would not need vouching, that it would disappear. Is that a good thing?

McGrath responds:

I think that our current vouching process is ridiculous. Canada, our neighbor to the North, they require photo ID to vote, but they do have an exception. They acutally do have vouching in Canada’s election system, but the Canadian system allows people to vouch for one individual, not fifteen like Minnesota’s does.

By the way, when our vouching system was first established, it was unlimited. At some point the legislature around the 1980s said, “Eh, maybe unlimited’s a bit much,” so they reduced it to thirty, and then later they said, “Eh, two vanfuls of people to vouch for, maybe that’s too much and they cut it down to fifteen. . . .That’s the great compromise that we’ve got. Canada’s got this system of one, maybe I could live with that.

Then at 1:23:15 McGrath says:

But interestingly, the Voter ID Amendment does not necessarily do away with vouching. It does away with vouching as a means of identification, but for verifying your residence, there’s nothing in the amendment that would preclude that.

Here’s the video of that last snippet:

Over at MinnPost, on James Nord’s Voting amendment debate produces familiar questions — but no agreement on the answers, Amy Bergquist–who posted a much shorter version of the same claim on Bluestem–comments in McGrath: Amendment won’t end vouching:

(2) Toward the end of the debate, McGrath conceded that the amendment won’t stop vouching. He said it would stop vouching for a person’s identity but wouldn’t stop vouching for residency.

He’s half right, because the only thing vouching does is establish residency. McGrath mistakenly thinks that a voucher also vouches for a voter’s identity, but that’s not the case. Minn. Stat. 201.061, subd. 3(a), which governs vouching, states: “An individual may prove residence for purposes of registering by: . . . (4) having a voter who is registered to vote in the precinct, or who is an employee employed by and working in a residential facility in the precinct and vouching for a resident in the facility, sign an oath in the presence of the election judge vouching that the voter or employee personally knows that the individual is a resident of the precinct.”

I can vouch for the person who lives under a bridge in my precinct. I don’t have to vouch that I know who he is. I just have to vouch that I personally know *that* the individual is a resident of the precinct.

Is Amy Berguist’s comment true? After all, vouching is one of the things that’s often brought up by amendment supporters —Kiffmeyer mentions it in a column for Minnesota Public Radio on October 2, 2012, just three days ago–that supposedly illustrates the fraud horror house that is the Minnesota election system.

Yes, and here’s the relevant section of the statute, with the language on vouching in bold. A registered voter vouching for a same-day registrant is vouching for that new voter’s residence, not his or her identity. Here’s the passage:

Subd. 3.Election day registration.

(a) An individual who is eligible to vote may register on election day by appearing in person at the polling place for the precinct in which the individual maintains residence, by completing a registration application, making an oath in the form prescribed by the secretary of state and providing proof of residence. An individual may prove residence for purposes of registering by:

(1) presenting a driver’s license or Minnesota identification card issued pursuant to section 171.07;

(2) presenting any document approved by the secretary of state as proper identification;

(3) presenting one of the following:

(i) a current valid student identification card from a postsecondary educational institution in Minnesota, if a list of students from that institution has been prepared under section 135A.17 and certified to the county auditor in the manner provided in rules of the secretary of state; or

(ii) a current student fee statement that contains the student’s valid address in the precinct together with a picture identification card; or

(4) having a voter who is registered to vote in the precinct, or who is an employee employed by and working in a residential facility in the precinct and vouching for a resident in the facility, sign an oath in the presence of the election judge vouching that the voter or employee personally knows that the individual is a resident of the precinct. A voter who has been vouched for on election day may not sign a proof of residence oath vouching for any other individual on that election day. A voter who is registered to vote in the precinct may sign up to 15 proof-of-residence oaths on any election day. This limitation does not apply to an employee of a residential facility described in this clause. The secretary of state shall provide a form for election judges to use in recording the number of individuals for whom a voter signs proof-of-residence oaths on election day. The form must include space for the maximum number of individuals for whom a voter may sign proof-of-residence oaths. For each proof-of-residence oath, the form must include a statement that the voter is registered to vote in the precinct, personally knows that the individual is a resident of the precinct, and is making the statement on oath. The form must include a space for the voter’s printed name, signature, telephone number, and address.

While he insists on his expertise about election law, McGrath doesn’t seem to understand that other people don’t vouch for another person’s identity under the current statute. A registered voter can vouch that other people live in the district, but not for their identity.

Rather, a person can sign a sworn statement about his or her own identity should that he or she not have the documents to prove identity.

In the October 2 MPR column, Kiffmeyer mentions that Minnesota is one of the two states that allow for vouching–presumably she means by another voter–and Bluestem thinks that it’s peculiar that neither McGrath nor Kiffmeyer care to name that state: Iowa, one of Minnesota’s neighbors in the United States of America.

Instead, McGrath chatters on about Canada.

Iowa does allow another voter to vouch for both identity and residence in the precinct under Code 48A.7A ELECTION DAY AND IN-PERSON ABSENTEE REGISTRATION:

c. In lieu of paragraph “b”, a person wishing to vote may establish identity and residency in the precinct by written oath of a person who is registered to vote in the precinct. The registered voter’s oath shall attest to the stated identity of the person wishing to vote and that the person is a current resident of the precinct. The oath must be signed by the attesting registered voter in the presence of the appropriate precinct election official. A registered voter who has signed an oath on election day attesting to a person’s identity and residency as provided in this paragraph is prohibited from signing any further oaths as provided in this paragraph on that day.

2. The oath required in subsection 1, paragraph “a”, and in paragraph “c”, if applicable, shall be attached to the voter registration application. ..

Other states allow election workers to vouch for residency. In North Dakota, which has no voter registration process, election workers can vouch for those lacking ID and proof of residence if they are known to the election worker. Here’s the process:

Precincts in North Dakota maintain a list of voters who have voted in previous elections. When a voter approaches a polling location they are asked to provide an acceptable form of identification. Then the election board will attempt to locate the voter’s name on the voting list. If the voter’s name is on the list, the voter’s name and address are verified and the voter is then allowed to vote.

If the voter is not on the list, but an election worker knows the voter to be a qualified elector of the precinct the poll worker may vouch for the voter. The voter then has the right to vote.

If the voter is not on the list and no poll worker is able to vouch for them, the voter may be challenged. As part of the challenge, the voter is asked to sign an affidavit swearing to the fact that he or she is a qualified elector of the precinct and therefore qualified to vote in the precinct. If the voter agrees to sign the affidavit, the voter must be allowed to vote. If the voter refuses to sign the affidavit, the voter is choosing not to vote.

In short, a voter new to a precinct and who is not known to the election workers, and who lacks identification and proof of resident, can vouch for him or herself in North Dakota.

What’s this about Canada, again? Is Minnesota’s election integrity as loose as goose, as McGrath and others claim? Compared to what?

The issue that we do see in maintaining election integrity–felons voting–isn’t addressed by the voter restriction amendment.

To learn about opportunities talk to your neighbors and friends about why they should vote no on voter restriction, visit Our Vote, Our Future. To learn more about the consequences of the amendment for Greater Minnesota, check out Greater MN Counts. Like the Facebook page Minnesotans Vote No Twice.