Live-blogging: Should you be required to prove your ID when voting?

A Minnesota House committee today is taking up the Capitol equivalent of the president throwing out the first pitch on opening day of the baseball season: The bill to require people to show a photo ID when voting.

Last fall the conservative group, Minnesota Majority, pressed for the law, saying same-day registration leads to errors, such as voters casting ballots in the wrong precinct.

The Franken-Coleman race, however, overshadowed the anecdotal evidence on Election Day that same-day voter registration saved the right to vote for a number of people.

Remember the Election Day story of Csilla Szabo of Rochester? I wrote about it on Election Day.

…she’s still upset at her experience when she tried to vote at the People of Hope Church in Rochester around Midmorning. “I’ve been registered for two years, I went through the line and my name was not on the voter roll,” she said. “I had to re-register and it’s a good thing I had proper ID with me. I asked the election judge where I could file a complaint and she said she didn’t think there was any way for individuals to file a complaint.”

We heard quite a few stories like this on Election Day. One Washington County official told me they had planned for the possibility of errors by keeping the Licensing Bureau offices open late so people could get IDs, and then register to vote and then… vote.

What’s changed from the debate in previous years, however, is the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court late last April that Indiana’s voter ID law doesn’t violate the Constitution.

During the Democratic National Convention, the Indiana clerk answered the assertion of the League of Women Voters that Voter ID diminishes the turnout by noting that Indiana already had a tradition of low turnouts. Turnout in November in the state was about 60 percent. In 2002, it was reported as 38 percent.

Several states are now debating the voter ID law. In Oklahoma, it may be the bargaining chip for efforts to allow early voting. Is it, perhaps, a scenario for Minnesota? On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie proposed early voting for Minnesota.

The House hearing is underway, I’m live blogging.

8:31 a.m. – Rep. Tom Emmer is speaking on behalf is bill. “It’s about confidence in the outcome of the election,” he says. He says the only argument against the bill is that it will disenfranchise part of the population — elderly, minorities, and special needs. “That argument has been entirely disproved.” He cites the Supreme Court decision I mentioned (and linked to) above. “So now the only argument you’re going to hear is about cost.”

8:35 a.m. – Emmer says IDs will be provided at no cost to the person who needs it. It would cost the state $1.19 each. He says an estimated 143,000 people would need to get IDs (presuming they don’t have it now). He says the average voter turnout since same-day registration is less than the six presidential elections prior.

>> Note: Here’s the statistics from the Secretary of State on that. Emmer cited presidential turnout. Here’s the non-presidential turnout. Blue is the primary, red is the general election.

8:40 a.m. – Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, the former secretary of state, is now speaking. She says other states have seen an increase in turnout after the Voter ID law.

8:45 a.m. – By way of background, this effort failed last year in the Legislature when supporters tried to amend another bill.

8:46 a.m. – Rep. Ryan Winkler notes that Minnesota Majority says that elections in Minnesota have no integrity. “Did elections when you were secretary of state have integrity?” he asks Kiffmeyer. “We can do better,” she said, not really answering the question. Winkler persists. “You used a categorical statement that it has no integrity, and I can’t be responsible for others’ comments,” Kiffmeyer said.

Aside: Kiffmeyer was a member of Minnesota Majority.

8:50 a.m. – Kiffmeyer says MM wasn’t saying the entire election has no integrity.

8:51 a.m. – Rep. Paul Marquart rejects notion that it was Voter ID that caused an increase in turnout in Indiana, noting most states had an increase in turnout. He and Emmer debate whether turnout has gone down since same-day registration was adopted in Minnesota.

Marquart says Emmer is comparing off-year elections and the average voter turnout in an off-year election is about 38 percent.

8:55 a.m. “We’ve got a solution looking for a problem,” Marquart says. Emmer suggests Marquart is questioning his integrity. They’re debating statistics.

Let’s dig deeper into this question because the reps don’t have the data. Here’s a study by the University of Minnesota. Here’s what it said:

Same-day registration has contributed to Minnesota’s strong voter participation, accounting for 15 percent to nearly 21 percent of the state’s turnout. (Minnesota is one of just six states — including Wisconsin — that permits same-day registration. Most of these states lead the country in voter turnout.)

8:59 a.m. – Rep. Mark Buesgens of Jordan cites statistics showing turnout is up higher in Voter ID states than non-voter ID states.

9:01 a.m. – David Schultz, Hamline professor and former president of Common Cause. He wrote this: “Lies, Damn Lies, and Voter IDs:The Fraud of Voter Fraud.” He says the level of voter fraud is “statistically insignificant.” In a MinnPost article, he called it a “myth.

9:08 a.m. “Have you done any research on voter fraud?” Rep. Steve Gottwalt of St. Cloud asks. “I know where you’re going to head,” Schultz says. “That voter fraud is hard to detect.” Schultz says the allegations of voter fraud do not stand up to the evidence.

9:10 a.m. – Gottwalt says Schultz’ tone is “one of vitriol and anger.” “The problem is these studies don’t investigate the allegations,” he said. “Twenty-five precincts in this state recorded more votes than voters in the precincts.” He says Schultz’s studies only focus on official claims of voter fraud. Schultz says they do.

9:12 a.m. – Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, gives Schultz three softballs to take the pressure off the professor. Schultz explains his methodology, dismisses higher turnout in Indiana and says it can’t be pinned to voter ID (Bob notes: this is a pretty irrelevant point since the claim isn’t that voter ID makes people more likely to vote, it’s that voter ID doesn’t make it so hard that people won’t vote.),

Recommended reading: Slate Magazine 2007 article, “The first big survey of voter ID requirements — and its surprising findings.”

Fraud is one of those things for which social scientists simply do not have the tools for systematic measurement. We know fraud happens sometimes–particularly in the context of absentee ballots, if the number of prosecutions is any indicator. But we have not figured out a way to investigate it on a national scale.

9:22 a.m. – Josh Reed was a poll challenger for one of the Minneapolis precincts with the missing ballots. “It seemed very difficult for the students to vote. When you come from another state, you don’t have a local driver’s license. In most of the cases, the utility bills were paid by someone else, so they didn’t have anything.” He says the judges were having a hard time deciding who could vote and many students were turned away.

He says people tried to vouch for people even though they didn’t know who they were. One girl, who had been vouched for, came back and vouched for three other people. He says a voter ID law errs on the side of accuracy.

9:32 a.m. – Sec. of State Mark Ritchie says he’s been conducting listening sessions around the state and everybody is commenting how smoothly the election went. He says he’s been asking people about the legislation and gets five reactions:

  1. Nobody has any information and cannot find evidence of voter impersonation.

  2. Everybody agrees that the main population affected is the people who don’t have the IDs. “In Indiana, that was 98-year-old nuns.”
  3. People are concerned this will slow down the lines and require election officials to add more judges. “They want to know where the election judges and the money will come from?” he said.
  4. It creates a giant bureaucracy for provisional ballots. Provisional voting in this country, which is not allowed in Minnesota, “is a nightmare that allows only one-third of those votes to be counted.” Nobody wants it in this state unless the National Guard comes in from Mississippi and makes us do it, he says.
  5. It’s expensive. The unfunded mandate is the cost of doing it at the county level. “It’s $870,000 per year and you can fix a few bridges in Kittson County for that,” he said.

9:38 a.m. – “What is the primary goal of your office?” Rep. Gottwalt asks. Ritchie gives him four, one of which is running free and fair elections.

“Would voter ID increase or decrease the integrity of elections?” asks Gottwalt.

“Since there’s no documentation of voter fraud, it would have zero effect,” he says, adding that opinions about voter ID hurt the integrity of the elections.

Kiffmeyer presses Ritchie on the problem students at the U of M had and Ritchie blames Gov. Pawlenty for opposing a bill that would allow students to use their student IDs as valid election day identification. Kiffmeyer says that would be a valid ID (government-issued student ID) under the bill.

Recommended reading: The Smart Politics blog at the U of M Humphrey Institute says there’s strong voter support for this bill.

9:46 a.m. – A man who served as an election judge says people were vouching for people and didn’t even know the names of the person for whom they were vouching. He also says people presented IDs, even though they didn’t have to, “and it didn’t take any time at all.” He says an “old-folks home” and a chemical dependency center is in his precinct. “They don’t have utility bills.” He says employees of the organizations wouldn’t vouch for the residents. “And none of those people voted,” he said. “If they’d had a photo ID, they would’ve voted.”

9:55 a.m. -Keesha Gaskins of the Minnesota League of Women Voters testifies and calls it a costly bill. She says “if you don’t have a piece of paper that had a current address along with a birth date — none of which is provided under same-day voter registration — ” none of them could get a voter ID card and couldn’t vote.

“We are offended by the comparison of voting to commercial activities,” she said. She didn’t explain what she means by that. Is it that I have to show an ID to cash a check but not vote?

9:58 a.m. – Lucky Rosenbloom speaks, he says, on behalf of the African American community. He is chair of the Black Republican Caucus. He tells the historical story of people in the south who were beaten for voting. “When I stand in line waiting to vote and I have people in front of me being turned away because they don’t have a utility bill, I tell them they have to come back and vote.” But he says they’ve thrown away the bill after paying it.

He says a photo ID will allow empower “people in my community” to vote.

10:04 a.m. – Scott McMahon of the Minnesota Private College Council, says private college IDs wouldn’t be accepted. He says if there were two students from the same family — one attending Winona State and one attending St. Mary’s — only one would be allowed to vote.

Trivia time: In the three times this issue has come up in the House, no Republican has voted against it. Several DFLers have voted for it.

10:10 a.m. – Rep. Emmer is making his final comments. He says it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We’re near a vote. Prediction: It goes down on an 11-to-8 vote.

10:12 a.m. – The bill is dead on an 11-to-8 vote.

One DFLer voted for the bill. Rep. Philip Sterner of Rosemount.