Voter ID and Northfield-UPDATED AGAIN

UPDATE September 9, 2012: Secretary of State Mark Ritchie wrote more about the Minnesota Voter ID amendment on MinnPost this week with an extensive explanation about how the provisional ballot verification process would work.  My post below is from March 2012.

I’ve been thinking Northfield voters should care about the proposed Voter ID constitutional amendment (similar legislation was vetoed by Gov. Dayton last year) wending its way through the state legislature because it would have a particularly big impact here.

Voter ID provisions would require voters to show government issued photo identification with current address, age, citizenship, etc.  The simple intent to have voters demonstrate they are who they say they are and live where they say they live is not particularly objectionable (which might explain why some polling suggests voters would be likely to approve such an amendment).   The practical problems, however, are extensive and expensive; the political debate is intensely partisan.

If, like me, you care about the cost of government, the first question before enacting a new rule which imposes new procedures and costs is: what problem does this rule try to solve and how much will it cost?  Answer: Depends.  If the problem to be solved is voter fraud – a very small problem –  this is a lot of new regulation to solve a perceived threat more than a genuine issue.  If the problem is how to disenfranchise certain kinds of voters: students, older adults, election day voter registrants and those likely to cast ballots for Democrats, then it is more narrowly tailored, but starts smelling funny.

If, like me, you think we should try to increase voter registration and voter turnout by making it easier to register and vote, what effect will this have?  Biggest impact will be on election day voter registration and here’s where it gets interesting.  Take a look at MinnPost’s snazzy interactive map:

Mapping same day voter registration

Several of Northfield’s precincts have very high election day registration – almost 40% in one precinct.  That same precinct voted almost 80% for Democratic candidates for both federal and state office in 2008.  There is a clear correlation between high election day registration and voting Democrat.  I’d bet there’s also a good correlation between high student turnout and election day registration – and Northfield has lots of students.

But what I really care about are fair fights.  I’d think GOP candidates would like to be able to win because their message and policies are more appealing to voters rather than because they keep more likely DFL voters from the polls.  I’d also think they would NOT want to increase government bureaucracy and costs (especially to local government) to the extent necessary with the Voter ID requirements.

UPDATE: After a couple of weeks of debate and a few amendments, the Republican-controlled Minnesota legislature has approved the Voter ID proposed constitutional amendment on a party-line vote on April 4.  Now it’s up to voters to vote on the amendment in November and, since this amendment will make voting more difficult for many in 2013 if approved, now’s the time to take action against voter suppression.