Willmar, Minn., mayor expresses support for voter ID measure
WILLMAR -- Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish has declared his support for the proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would require voters to present a photo ID in order to vote.
The ame-ndment will appear on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general el-ection.
The mayor told reporters Wednesday morning at his South First Street tire business that he felt he needed to take a stand in favor of the amendment after mayors in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester this week declared they opposed the amendment.
"We need a photo ID to cash a check and drive a car. Nobody makes a fuss about this,'' Yanish said. "I felt in the interest, because we are talking in the city a lot about transparency, I wanted people to know where their mayor stood in this particular issue.''
Also attending the press conference were amendment supporters State Sen. Joe Gimse and State Rep. Bruce Vogel, both Willmar Republicans.
Photo ID supporters say they proposed the amendment in order to reduce voter fraud. Critics say the Republican-backed amendment is a political tactic to disenfranchise communities that traditionally vote for the DFL and they say that the type of voter fraud that photo ID seeks to combat is nonexistent in Minnesota.
Asked what has been the percentage of fraudulent votes cast, Gimse said if one fraudulent vote is cast in Minnesota, it is wrong.
"We know our current system, which allows for vouching -- one person can vouch for up to 15 people -- is inefficient and ripe for fraud. Both sides of the aisle can agree that that is not a process that is effective for Minnesota. Photo ID and voter registration is. That's why we're promoting photo ID,'' Gimse said.
"It's a very clear cut way to reduce voter fraud and we go back to core principles that the ballot box is a sacred process in which we have a responsibility to ensure that every vote that is cast is a legitimate vote and that we don't allow any type of potential fraud,'' he said.
Gimse and Vogel were asked about felons who voted in the 2008 election.
Vogel said 177 felons have been prosecuted to date for voting illegally in Minnesota and over 400 are being investigated, as well as 40 college students known to have voted in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not all of those have been charged, he said. That decision is up to local prosecutors.
"But it does show that there is fraud out there and just as the mayor said, for every illegal vote that's cast, it disenfranchises a legitimate vote,'' Vogel said.
He said a photo identification requirement is nothing new and he said many states already have it. Vogel said the opposition is trying to scare senior citizens by saying they won't be able to vote. Vogel said there is a process already in place to fill out a one-page form for obtaining identification.
"Just fill out the form, verify some things and they can get an ID free of charge if they can't afford it,'' he said.
Amendment supporters say photo ID is projected to cost $3.5 million, of which $2 million will be spent on voter education. Gimse and Vogel said the Legislature will be responsible for implementing the process and not push any additional cost onto local units of government.
The Tribune asked City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday what he thought would be Willmar's cost for implementing the process if the amendment is approved.
Halliday said the cost would depend on the number of provisional ballots cast and the amount of additional time needed by election judges to count the ballots. There would be no need to buy extra ballot boxes because the city's old boxes could be used for the provisional ballots.
If the amendment passes, a process for provisional ballots will have to be created. Voters who do not have valid ID at the polling place would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that would be counted later only if that voter produces valid ID.