This fall, voters in Minnesota will decide on two amendments that would change the state’s constitution. Many people know about the marriage amendment, but of more than a dozen teens interviewed for this article, few knew about the photo ID amendment.
If approved, this amendment would require that Minnesotans have a state-issued photo ID like a driver’s license in order to vote.
Why should you care? Because this amendment would change the state’s whole system of voting. For example, it might not be possible to register to vote on Election Day, as many young people do now. And college students who go away to school in Minnesota couldn’t just use their student ID to vote. Instead, they’d have to have a state ID and a tuition statement with their campus address.
Minnesota’s secretary of state and many civic groups think the election system works fine now and believe that new rules would make it harder for young, old, and poor people to vote, which would discourage them from even trying.
“It’s going to eliminate the registration at the polling place and be replaced by provisional voting,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. More than 500,000 Minnesotans registered to vote on Election Day in 2008 and many of
them were young people, he said.
But supporters of the ID requirement say it would protect Minnesota from people who shouldn’t be voting.
“If a stranger is standing in front of you (without an ID), how do you know it’s not an impersonator?” asked Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state who is now a Republican state legislator from Big Lake. She led the effort in the legislature to get the amendment on the ballot.
If people didn’t have the right papers when they went to vote, they could cast a “provisional” ballot, but it wouldn’t count unless they came back to the election office with the right papers.
Many might just say who cares and not vote. When the time comes to know who won, people who weren’t able to vote might be angry and say that this is really not a democracy.
To find out what teens think, we met with 10 people between the ages of 16 to 21 who are enrolled in a summer media class with Migizi Communications, a Minneapolis non-profit that serves Native American youth. Only two students had heard about the Photo ID amendment, and only four had state driver’s licenses or IDs.
When we explained the amendment, their attitudes shifted as they thought about it. Rita Deere, a 21-year-old student at Four Directions Charter School in Minneapolis, said she thought tribal IDs and school IDs should be enough to vote.
But Hasaanah Abdul Wahid, 17, at Henry High School in Minneapolis, thought the change might cause more people to get state IDs, and that would be good.
“You should have an ID anyway,” Hasaanah said.
“Does it cost money?” asked Alicia Richards from Minneapolis South High School.
“It doesn’t cost a lot,” said Gabe Siert, their teacher. “But if you’re broke…Before it was so easy; you could go down there that day – that’s what I always did because I move around a lot.
“The more difficult you make it to vote, the less people are going to vote,” he added. “It just seems like they make it more and more difficult for people to have their voice heard in this system.”
Right: Gabe Siert, a teacher at Migizi Communications, thinks the Voter ID amendment will make it harder for broke people to vote.
If the amendment passes, the state would offer free IDs just for voting. But to get the IDs, people would have to have birth certificates or other proof of identity, which takes time and money to get.
Ritchie said requiring state IDs would also make it harder for people to get ballots ahead of the election and cast absentee votes.
“Young people in the military or school are often using mail or absentee ballots and this creates a whole new set of regulations, restrictions and requirements,” Ritchie said.
If the amendment passes, the Minnesota Legislature will write rules to implement the new system. She said lawmakers won’t make it hard for soldiers to vote. And she suggested that college students could get their universities to give them tuition statements with their college addresses as proof of their identity.
Ritchie said 84,000 Minnesotans who voted in the 2008 election didn’t have state IDs. If the amendment passes, they would have to get state IDs to vote.
“Young people will make up a significant portion of (those) individuals,” he said.
Kiffmeyer said the tighter rules would benefit young people by increasing public confidence and turnout in elections. “I see this as a non-effect for them.”
Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said her group is working with dozens of other nonprofit organizations to campaign against the Photo ID amendment. They’ll be talking especially to young people and old people, who are most likely to be affected by the change.
“This is not just about photo ID,” she said. “It’s a much bigger change to our election system.”