The voter identification issue, now being considered by state lawmakers, was debated Wednesday night at Central Lakes College in Brainerd by two legislators.
Presenting opposing views before a crowd of about 70 were Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, chief author of H.F. 210, and Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park.
Kiffmeyer, a former Minnesota secretary of state who grew up in Pierz, described the bill’s intent to make it “easy to vote, just hard to cheat.”
“It’s a common sense provision,” she said and one that calls for a degree of citizen responsibility. She said she thought it would increase voter turnout.
Kiffmeyer said some people are honest and other people cheat. For those who thought voter fraud was not an important issue, she posed a question.
“If you think there is no fraud ... Did you lock your car? Did you lock your house?”
Simon, an attorney who earned his undergraduate degree at Tufts University, said a photo ID requirement was a great idea in theory but was problematic and could potentially fence out tens of thousands of voters when real world implications were considered.
“The costs are just, at least for the time being, too high,” he said.
The gist of many small town newspaper editorials opposing voter ID requirements, he said, was that it was a tiny problem and a big cost. He pointed to a relatively low number of election fraud convictions in a state of 5 million people and problems it would pose to voters who moved to nursing homes, battered women’s shelters and college quarters.
Simon cited the 1998 experience of his own father as an example of the problems which could arise if the bill passed and voter vouching by other citizens was eliminated. The lawmaker said his father moved to a new address in October and would not have been able to vote without being able to have a registered voter vouch for him.
He said the fiscal note or price tag on the bill was subject to change as the bill has been amended but has been estimated at $6,242,000 in state costs for a two-year period. He said it would cost county and township governments an additional $8,298,000 in the same period.
Kiffmeyer, who didn’t cite a specific dollar amount in response to a question about the cost of the bill, said after the forum that the price tag would be less than $5 million. She said that cost included state-subsidized IDs, the development of all of the needed computer software and $2.8 million for education.
Simon said Kiffmeyer’s legislation doesn’t get to the core of the existing voter fraud problem. He said that if a person was willing to risk committing a felon and vote illegally they were probably willing to forge an ID.
“College kids do it all the time to get into bars,” Simon said.
While he supported voter verification, he said using voter identification was just one tool. He has supported “motor voter” legislation to require motorists to opt out of the requirement to share driver’s license information with voting data.
Questions from an audience that included former state legislators and one former congressman were submitted to Kiffmeyer and Simon.
Attending the Gordon Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government Forum were former state Reps. Kris Hasskamp (a Democrat) and Dale Walz (a Republican), who both serve on the Rosenmeier Board. Also attending was former Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and two former legislative candidates, Democrat Taylor Stevenson and Republican David Allan Pundt.
Chris Kellett, chair of the Rosenmeier Board and former Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, who is executive director of the center, introduced the guest speakers.
Kiffmeyer said a hearing is scheduled for Thursday in the State Government Finance Committee and she expected it to be passed by that panel. The next stops before going to the full House, she said, were the Transportation Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.