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Minn.'s Human Rights commissioner makes case against voter ID

Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, discusses Thursday at Ridgewater College how the state's changing demographics will affect jobs, education and the economy. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey has traveled to at least 15 different communities in the last few weeks to discuss the proposed voter identification constitutional amendment.

On Thursday he conducted a public forum at Ridgewater College in Willmar on that topic, as well as the proposed marriage amendment.

In a telephone interview earlier in the day, Lindsey said voting is part of what makes the United States the "greatest democracy" in the world and that the goal should be to remove barriers to voting, not to create new barriers.

Proponents of the amendment cite the necessity to show photo identification before buying alcohol or to cash a check and argue the same requirement should be required for voters.

The difference, said Lindsey, is that voting is a right, not a privilege.

Voting is a fundamental "core" of citizenship, said Lindsey. "What right does government have to take away, or limit, your ability to vote?"

Supporters say the amendment is needed to prevent voter fraud and to preserve the integrity of the voting system.

Lindsey said the handful of voter fraud cases reported in Minnesota involved individuals with criminal records that had not yet been cleared to resume voting. Having a photo ID won't stop those mistakes from happening in the future, he said.

In addressing concerns with the amendment, Lindsey said the primary issue is that requiring a government-issued photo ID for voting would be enshrined in the state's constitution and become "the supreme law of the land" that will be very difficult to change.

The amendment language includes few details on how it will be implemented.

Legislative sponsors say the Legislature will work out the details during the next session. They also promise that free photo IDs will be provided to those who do not have them.

But Lindsey said if legislators can't agree on those details, then the courts will have to rely on the words of the new constitutional amendment, which he said leaves the door wide open for "unintended consequences" that could mean thousands of voters will be disenfranchised.

He said, for example, it costs money to obtain a copy of a birth certificate, and some elderly people who were not born in a hospital may not even have a birth certificate on record.

"You're going to be subjected to pay money in order to vote," said Lindsey, which equates to an illegal poll tax that will face a constitutional challenge.

He also said it's not clear if military photo identification will qualify as government-issued identification. And if student IDs from Minnesota state colleges are acceptable, will student IDs from private colleges not be accepted?

Lindsey cited data from the Secretary of State's office that more than 200,000 Minnesotans do not have an ID, and most of them are poor.

"Simply because you have low economic means, do you lose your right to vote?" he asked.

Besides the possible cost to individuals to obtain a "free" photo ID, Lindsey said county officials have told him that taxpayers will pay a steep price for the amendment, especially in small townships that rely on mail-in or absentee ballots, which could be in jeopardy if the amendment passes.

Local governments are trying to "save money, not spend money," he said.

Lindsey says most people do not realize that the ballot will include an abbreviated version of the amendment, and not the actual wording that will be added to the constitution.

"Why aren't the citizens being given the actual language?" he said.

He said once people take the time to learn about the proposed amendment and understand that legislators won't be able to "make a little quick fix," their opinions start to change.

"I think people are getting it," he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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