Minnesota Supreme Court hearing July 31
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota voters will be allowed to decide the Voter ID question in November, and the title on the ballot will be the one the legislature picked.
The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a petition by the ACLU, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, challenging the wording of Voter ID ballot question.
Those groups argued that the wording of the ballot question doesn't reflect all of the changes that will be made to the state's elections system if the amendment is placed in the Constitution.
The High Court ruled that the Legislature has final say on ballot questions, based on the Minnesota laws and previous court rulings considered precedents. The majority ruled that the court system may not infringe on that legislative power unless the deception is so great that it amounts to a "palpable evasion" of the law.
The ballot reads simply, "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?"
The changes that would be made to the Constitution include a new system of provisional voting not mentioned on the ballot question. Those without valid ID showing their current address will cast provisional ballots that are set aside and not counted until after the voter's identity and residence is verified.
But the court's majority -- all four justices appointed by former Governor Tim Pawlenty -- sided with the Republican-controlled legislature. They said there was no overt deception, and the omissions presented by the question's wording, didn't rise to the level of deceiving voters.
The two dissenting justices, Alan Page and Paul Anderson, were on the High Court before the Pawlenty era. In his dissent Justice Page called the ballot question a classic case of "bait and switch," asserting that voters won't know what they're placing in the constitution.
Justice Anderson, in his dissent, argued, "The people of Minnesota will be presented with an inaccurate, misleading and deceptive ballot question. This failure by the Legislature to follow the Constitution seriously undermines the power of the people of Minnesota to be self-governed."
Bill author's reaction
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, the chief author of the amendment in the Minnesota House, felt vindicated by the High Court's ruling.
"It's a victory for the voters," Rep. Kiffmeyer told KARE. "It's something that's very important to them, with nearly 80 percent support amongst all sectors of Minnesota. They get to see it on the ballot this fall."
Kiffmeyer, the Big Lake Republican who served two terms as Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007, said she thought the provisional ballot system naturally flows from the requirement to present an ID at the polling place.
"The real essence of this Constitutional amendment is the photo ID requirement," Kiffmeyer explained. "All of the other language is supportive of that, helping to make sure that everybody possible who's eligible gets to cast their ballot."
Kiffmeyer discounted opponents' arguments that the provisional balloting system will trip up tens of thousands of voters who register on the day of the election, which is still legal in Minnesota.
She said, if the photo ID amendment passes, lawmakers will have to rise to the challenge of making it easier for poll workers to verify identities of new voters and those with outdated IDs.
New Ballot Titles Tossed
In two other rulings handed down at the same time, the court blocked Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's attempts to change the titles of the Voter ID ballot question and another controversial question, known as the Marriage Amendment.
Ritchie attempted to change the titles of both controversial amendments to more accurately reflect the changes they will bring to the state constitution.
The legislature's title for the Voter ID amendment read simply, "Photo Identification Required for Voting."
Ritchie, asserting a statutory power that has existed since the 1890s, officially titled the ballot question, "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots."
In the case of the Marriage Amendment, which will place the state's current ban on gay marriage into the state constitution, the original title was "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman."
Ritchie renamed that ballot question, "Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples."
He maintained he had the statutory power to change the title, and Attorney General Lori Swanson issued a legal opinions agreeing with the new title.
The court's majority agreed state statutes give the Secretary of
State the power to dictate how a ballot question appears, but that only the legislature has the power to decide the title of a question submitted directly to the voters.
The Secretary of State, who oversees elections and business licensing in Minnesota, can't substitute language in the ballot titles, the High Court ruled.
Once again, Justices Page and Anderson dissented with the Court's majority. They argued that the Secretary of State was attempting to make the ballots more accurately reflect how the Constitution will be changed if voters approve those questions.
Ritchie and Republicans
Ritchie thanked the Supreme Court justices for ruling before the ballots went to the printers this week. He urged voters to become familiar with the amendments before they walk into the voting booth.
"My office will continue working closely with local elections officials to ensure that ballots are prepared and delivered to our servicemen and women and other absentee voters so they have the time they need to fully participate in our elections," Ritchie said in a news release.
Republicans argued that Ritchie overstepped his authority and was trying to influence voters to reject both amendments, rather than remaining neutral.
"The two Supreme Court decisions today put Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in his place," the Republican Party of Minnesota chairman Pat Shortridge said in a statement to the media.
"Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson completely overstepped their roles by attempting to circumvent the state legislature and rename the two constitutional amendments that will appear on the ballot this November."
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