The Supreme Court Argument Over the Voter ID Amendment, and Why It Matters

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I grew up with an eye on Minnesota politics and spent summers interning at the state capitol watching the floor debates on TV; but on July 17th in Saint Paul I had a front row seat. The Minnesota Supreme court heard a challenge to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require valid, state-issued photo identification for voting in Minnesota, and I was courtside.

The room was abuzz and the Justices were beyond well-prepared. The lawyers on both sides had barely introduced their arguments when the storm of questions rained down from the bench and struck to the core of the issue. It was intimidating. At trial was whether the amendment question, as it is being put to the voters, is misleading. The lawsuit, brought by the League of Women voters and a coalition including Jewish Community Action (where I am on staff as an organizer), was argued by Bill Pentalovich and a team from Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand. The last case that I heard Bill Pentalovich argue was a mock trial of Abraham held at Adath Jeshurun’s Shabbat Morning Program when I was a bar mitzvah student. Abe didn’t stand a chance.

To bring down photo ID, the team from Maslon argued that the discrepancy between the ballot question and the actual amendment is deceptive and should be struck from the ballot. The short ballot question does not accurately reflect the drastic impact that the amendment will have on our voting system.

One in six Minnesota voters would likely be affected by this change, including the elderly, service members oversees and communities of color that have been historically excluded from voting. If passed, an entirely new system of provisional balloting would need to be enacted. Our same-date voter registration system, the reason that Minnesota has the highest voter participation in the country, will be upended. The cost to the state is estimated at millions of dollars up front, with more in the future, and it will likely lead to an increase in property taxes.

And most astonishing of all, we will not know exactly what we are voting on, as it has been left to the 2013 legislature to determine what a new system will look like. The language that voters will see on the ballot won’t reflect any of that. We won’t know what we are voting on. Justice David Stras expressed his own confusion when reading the ballot language: The way that the legislature has posed it to voters (calling for merely “valid photo ID” without language of “state issued”) even had him wondering if his Jewish Community Center membership card with his picture on it would be an acceptable ID for voting. According to the amendment language and the law makers’ intention it won’t be, and so the language of the question is misleading.

If the ballot question isn’t clear on what is “valid photo ID,” how can we vote on whether to require it? The team of attorneys defending the ballot question argued that it is not “palpably” misleading and that it is the responsibility of the voters to know what they are voting on and not to be misled. The ruling will likely come down to whether or not the Supreme Court thinks it has the authority to strike this from the ballot. If photo ID does make it to the voters (possible) and then is passed (also possible), our ability to affect the decisions that impact our lives will be undermined. To find out how you and your grandparents in Menorah Plaza could be impacted if voter ID is enacted visit ourvoteourfuture.org, the unified campaign to defeat this unnecessary amendment and click here to pledge to vote NO.

This post originally ran on TCJewfolk.com on August 9, 2012.

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