Voter ID sparks fly in secretary of state race

Four candidates for secretary of state (from L to R: Dan Severson, Bob Helland, Steve Simon and Bob Odden) appear at a University of Minnesota forum. Tim Pugmire / MPR News

The voter ID debate is getting renewed attention in this year’s race for Minnesota secretary of state, which is an open seat due to Democrat Mark Ritchie’s retirement.

All four candidates in the statewide contest addressed the issue today during a University of Minnesota Humphrey School forum. They also discussed early voting, ranked-choice voting, military voting and the role of the secretary of state.

Republican Dan Severson, who ran for the office four years ago, highlighted his proposal to create an “express lane” voting option for Minnesotans who voluntarily show a photo ID at the polls. Severson said  he came up with the idea after voters rejected a photo ID constitutional amendment in 2012.

“Obviously, Minnesotans were uncomfortable with a constitutional amendment. I get that,” Severson said. “This is another way in which we can secure our system and actually accommodate our system more effectively.”

State Rep. Steve Simon, the DFL candidate for secretary of state, slammed Severson’s proposal. Simon said that kind of system would wrongly segregate voters in separate lines and leave some out in the cold.

“It’s a way to marginalize and to ostracize and exclude people who don’t have the kind of ID that he and others like him think they should have,” Simon said. “I think this is a warmed-over version of the voter ID proposal that Minnesotans have rejected.”

Simon took several jabs at his GOP opponent. He called Severson a “partisan warrior” on an “ideological crusade.”

Independence Party candidate Bob Helland said he wants to eliminate what he sees as the “express lane” advantage that major party candidates have over the minor parties in ballot access.

“Why aren’t we talking about everyone going through the same hoops, rather than having those kind of express lanes,” Helland asked.

Bob Odden of the Libertarian Party said he too thinks a voter ID requirement could help speed up voting. Odden also said Minnesota voters need more ballot options.

“If you want to get more people voting, the best way to do that is provide more candidates,” Odden said. “Provide diversity on the ballot.”

The four candidates are scheduled to share a stage again Oct. 28, at a League of Women Voters forum at Augsburg College.

UPDATE

Bob Odden later clarified his voter ID comments.

“I don’t want to require ID,” Odden said in an email. “If a voter wanted to volunteer a photo ID, government or non-government, it would help reduce transcription errors and might speed up lines.”

The vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota stressed that the party does not support new restrictions on voting.