Voter ID causes local concern
Dakota County Attorney investigating alleged voter fraud
by Laura Adelmann
Some local election officials cite concerns about the requirements a voter ID law would place on them if implemented in Minnesota.
A proposed constitutional amendment would require voters to produce a government-issued photo identification card to cast a ballot.
Republicans say the requirement will address voter fraud, while Democrats worry it will disenfranchise some voters, including the elderly and disabled.
The issue has drawn heated partisan debate and concerns by local officials who would be charged with carrying out the law.
In a Feb. 27 letter to Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, and copied to five state legislators, Burnsville City Manager Craig Ebeling called the legislation an “unfunded mandate” from the state, and asked that provisional balloting be removed from the legislation.
Provisional balloting allows a voter to fill out a ballot when questions arise regarding the voter’s eligibility, but is secured separately from other ballots.
After the election, officials must determine if the voter was eligible based on records and information on the ballot. If the voter is verified eligible, their vote is counted.
Ebeling said provisional balloting would require election offices to be open for 10 days after the election, require two additional election judges, new forms, envelopes, storage and a separate ballot box in all city precincts.
He estimated it would cost Burnsville $15,000 to $20,000.
Dakota County Property Records and Taxation Director Joel Beckman also cited concerns about provisional balloting.
He said one election judge in charge of provisional voting would be needed at all polling locations in the county.
“You have to handle (provisional ballots) completely apart from all others who have checked in and have their ID,” Beckman said.
Training would be required to ensure a secure chain-of-custody process, Beckman said.
Eagan City Administrator Tom Hedges cited concerns about the length of time cities would have to train election judges and city staff if an amendment were passed.
“There’s not a great deal of turnaround time before an election,” he said.
His concerns were echoed by Ann Higgins, intergovernmental relations representative with the League of Minnesota Cities, who noted many schools and cities have off-year elections that could leave them navigating the new requirements alone in 2013.
“This isn’t just a simple law change,” she said. “This is a completely different way of doing voting.”
She said they are asking that the legislation’s effective date be put off until 2014.
In an email interview with Thisweek, Minnesota Majority Executive Director Dan McGrath, a leading spokesman for voter ID, challenged arguments against provisional ballots.
He said 44 states use provisional balloting, and questioned whether additional election judges would be needed to handle the few provisional ballots that would be expected based on other state’s experiences.
In Louisiana, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau has a similar population to Minnesota, the Secretary of State Office reported there were 686 provisional voters in the 2010 election.
Of those, 296 ballots were counted and 390 rejected, according to the Louisiana secretary of state.
McGrath said provisional balloting provides voters who would otherwise be turned away a second chance to cast a ballot.
“The amendment doesn’t require any offices to remain open,” McGrath said. “The mechanism for verifying provisional ballots will still need to be determined by the Legislature. It might require county offices to be open, but they generally are anyway.”
He added delays in election results would only occur in very close races.
“In those cases, (delays) already (occur) because of automatic recounts and occasionally contested results,” McGrath said. “Nothing new to Minnesota, except that after such delays, we’ll have more confidence in the outcome.”
McGrath and other voter ID proponents say requiring voters to produce a government-issued photo identification will reduce voter fraud.
Although there are criminal consequences for anyone who commits voter fraud, proving intent is challenging and does not change the election results.
Minnesota Majority, a proponent of the constitutional amendment, states it found “after the 2008 election, out of 500,000 election-day registrants, 23,000 of them were flagged for challenge in 2010, because their address was invalid.”
Most recent voter fraud investigations in Dakota County are closed without charges for lack of evidence, according to an Oct. 28, 2011, letter to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom wrote his office investigated two allegations of voter fraud in the 2008 election that it dropped for lack of evidence.
His office also investigated two men who were alleged to have double-voted in that election, but also dropped the cases because the allegation of intentional double-voting could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
When Minnesota Majority referred to Backstrom a list of 202 names for investigation, his office charged 49 people with violations of voter registration laws.
The remaining 153 people named did not yield sufficient evidence to support criminal charges, Backstrom said.
He said the cases are still under investigation, as are approximately 29 other allegations of voter registration violations from the 2010 elections.
Minnesota is one of a handful of states that allow election-day voting registration, and one of only two states that allow registration and voter vouching.
This process allows a registered voter to vouch for the identity and eligibility of up to 15 other voters seeking to vote, but lacking any acceptable form of identification.
Voter ID advocates also claim ineligible felons are voting in Minnesota, a charge that Beckman does not dispute.
“I’d be virtually certain felons have voted in Dakota County,” Beckman said. “Have they done it intentionally? I don’t know.” Under state law, charges are filed if there is proof the person knew they were ineligible to vote when they cast their ballot.
No matter the outcome of the voter ID amendment, city and county officials indicated they will comply, but would like their concerns to be addressed.
Burnsville City Clerk Machael Brooks said only Gerlach responded to the letter Ebeling sent, saying he would meet with them after the session.
She questioned whether the city’s concerns were being addressed as the Legislature debates the amendment.
Other legislators who were sent the letter almost two months ago are Sens. Ted Daley and Dan Hall, Reps. Pam Myhra, Tara Mack and Diane Anderson.
Brooks emphasized the city is nonpartisan and said its primary concern about the proposal is the increased administrative burden and costs.
“If someone has to show an ID to vote, it makes no difference to us as a city,” Brooks said. “But what makes a difference to us as a city is this increased administrative work that goes with provisional balloting.”
Laura Adelmann is at firstname.lastname@example.org.