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Republicans pushing photo identification for voters

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, center, explains a bill that would require Minnesotans to show photo identifications before casting votes on their ballots. Also pictured is Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, left, and Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Legislative Republicans who campaigned last fall saying they want Minnesotans to produce photo identification cards before being allowed to vote have followed through with bills likely to be debated soon.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who for eight years was secretary of state, Minnesota's chief elections official, said her bill combined the photo ID requirement with providing state-funded computers to most voting precincts.

"It moves us into the 21st century," she said.

Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, said he knows of no voting problems in the local area, but the undetermined cost to make election law changes would be money well spent.

"In this situation, there is a justification to help the voting process," Vogel said.

Since polls show that 80 percent of Minnesotans support a voter photo ID law, he added, the bill should pass.

"It comes down to common sense," Vogel said.

Democrats, led by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, blasted the measure, saying it will be expensive and there is no indication that there is any significant voter fraud that needs correcting.

"At a time when lawmakers are looking to streamline government and create efficiencies, (Kiffmeyer's bill) includes many proposals that would significantly increase the state's budget deficit and create higher on-going costs for cities, counties and townships," Ritchie said.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, authored the Senate version of the bill.

A photo ID would both verify that the voter is who he says he is and that he is voting in the right precincts, Limmer said.

The proposal would fund computer equipment including an ID-card reader and signature pad, that would be connected to a statewide voter database. Voters entering a polling place would be greeted by election judges that would be able to quickly sign up a voter and allow them to vote quicker, Kiffmeyer said.

Kiffmeyer and Limmer could not estimate how much the computer equipment and other provisions in the bill would cost. However, Kiffmeyer said, precincts with fewer than 1,000 voters would not be required to use computers.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, estimated the cost for the Kiffmeyer-Limmer bill at $40 million.

Winkler and Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said the only known cases of voter fraud come from 38 felons who voted when they were not allowed.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.