Detroit Lakes: Letter: Elections amendment will be costly in many ways

May 11, 2012

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Amid all the debate around the seriously flawed elections amendment, a critical issue has been ignored: the significant costs to the state of Minnesota’s budget and the budgets of our financially-strapped counties.

If the amendment passes, there are many unknowns about how it will be implemented, including:

  • what kind of government-issued photo IDs would be considered valid,
  •  how the newly created provisional balloting would be implemented, and
  •  how this will impact election day registration and voters who are not voting in person, including those living in the many mail-in precincts in rural counties in Minnesota.

This proposed amendment resembles both a Cheshire cat (because we can only see parts of it, but we can’t see all of it) and a Pandora’s box, in that we really won’t know what it will mean unless it passes.

But, we do know this: if it passes, it will change the way budgetary decisions are made at the local and state level. Remember last year? There was a state-wide shutdown and only essential offices and services remained open. At that time, people could not get or renew their driver’s licenses or state ID cards.

If a voter photo ID is required for voters, all locations that provide IDs linked to someone’s right to vote could not be closed. So, future consideration of closing Department of Motor Vehicle offices to save costs won’t be just about the hurdles of getting a license for the privilege to drive.  No, the Legislature will need to review possible lawsuits emerging from this reality: closing a DMV office will negatively impact the ability to citizens to get an ID so they can exercise their right to vote.

If the amendment passes, so-called “provisional” balloting will be enshrined in the Constitution. But, we don’t know exactly how it will be implemented. We do know that such ballots will need to be stored in a secure location after Election Day and that those handling the provisional ballots after Election Day will be required to have a complete understanding of how to respond to a provisional voter coming to the facility. We also know that two election judges of two different parties would need to handle the provisional ballots.

But, we don’t know if these ballots — which won’t be counted until a voter shows his or her ID — will be taken to the county seat, or if they will remain in cities and townships.

In each instance, the consideration of the office hours of public buildings, staffed by public employees, will be one of ensuring that provisional voters can come and have their votes counted. Given the state’s and counties’ budget woes, reducing hours or staff could be directly connected to infringing on someone’s right to vote.

If this amendment passes, Minnesota will be the only state that would require, by constitutional mandate, that all of its voters — both in-person and absentee voters — have “substantially equivalent” identity and eligibility verification standards. How, in fact, will absentee ballots be handled?

The argument has not been made that this cost will increase the integrity of elections.

There has been no discussion concerning the millions of dollars that state and local governments will be mandated to spend on education and implementation if the bill becomes part of the Minnesota constitution.

Passage of the elections amendment will be costly in so many ways. Large segments of our citizens will see their right to vote evaporate. The state and counties will face huge expenses. Democracy will be in the balance.

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