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The proposal, authored by freshman GOP Sen. Scott Newman, passed on a 36-30 vote after nearly five hours of debate. GOP freshman Sen. Jeremy Miller voted with all DFLers against the measure.

Senate passes photo ID constitutional amendment

Protesters gather outside the Senate chambers on Friday (Staff photo: Briana Bierschbach)

The Minnesota state Senate has passed a contentious constitutional amendment to require photo identification to vote, making it the second and likely final ballot initiative to face voters this fall.

The proposal, authored by freshman GOP Sen. Scott Newman, passed on a 36-30 vote after nearly five hours of debate. GOP freshman Sen. Jeremy Miller voted with all DFLers against the measure.

The Senate approval comes just days after the House passed its version of the photo I.D. amendment off the floor. The constitutional amendment route bypasses DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature, but minor differences between the House and the Senate proposals must be ironed out in a conference committee before the amendment can head to voters in November.  The photo I.D. question will join another GOP-led ballot initiative to define marriage as between one man and one woman, which passed through both chambers last spring.

In defending his proposal, Newman listed off cases of voter fraud in the state and argued the requirement would modernize Minnesota’s election system, prevent voter fraud and restore “voter confidence” in the state. DFLers argued the proposal would disenfranchise thousands of voters, namely students, the elderly and the homeless.

“Writing short-term policy goals into the Constitution can and will have unknown consequences,” DFL Sen. Mary Jo McGuire said.

At the start of the debate, Red Wing Republican Sen. John Howe offered an amendment to the bill to broaden the acceptable technology that could be used to identify voters.  “As technology advances, so should our ability to in the Minnesota Constitution,” Howe said. “This amendment would allow for that advancement of technology.” The amendment passed on a 63-3 vote, with GOP Sens. Warren Limmer, Dave Thompson and Dave Brown voting no.

A steady slew of DFL amendments were offered up and quickly failed, including one from DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk to exempt veterans living in a veterans’ home from the photo I.D. requirement and another to use electronic poll books to verify voters’ identities.

Hundreds of people crowded around the Senate chambers at the start of the debate, chanting “Just Vote No!” in unison.  Many protesters touted signs that tied the photo identification bill to conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which works with corporations and businesses to draft legislation. Others protested silently with $1 bills taped over their mouths to signify that their voices were being drowned out by corporate interests.

A photo identification requirement at the polls has long been a priority of Republican lawmakers in Minnesota. A legislative version of the photo I.D. passed through both chambers last session, but was ultimately vetoed by Dayton.

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