17.3.06

elections: Republicans vs. Minnesota Voters

The Republicans on the House Civil Law & Elections commitee turned my stomach this week when it met to discuss Rep. Tom Emmer's (R - Delano) Voter ID bill. The bill would require proof of citizenship during the voter registration process, and a photo ID on election day. Currently, Minnesota law allows registered voters to vouch for someone in their precinct, and Emmer's proposed law would add two bureaucratic layers to the voting process.

Generally, I've been impressed by committe hearings I've seen in the House of Representatives. The testimony and questioning is thorough, rigorous, and the legislators are well informed. However, none of that was true Wednesday -- at least for the Republicans on the committee.

The testimony was dramatically one-sided, with three proponents of the bill (including someone from Kiffmeyer's office) giving purely anecdotal testimony about the possiblity of voter fraud. One particularly bitter poll challenger even complained about large numbers of "Hmong people arriving in vans" in her St. Paul precinct. It was entirely unconvincing testimony, not to mention eerily racist.

On the other side were a about 10 non-profit and advocacy groups, with an array of statistics, figures, and testimony. They listed a large variety of problems with the bill, including:
  • The prohibitive expense of obtaining ID's for many people (estimates are around 10%)
  • Lack of birth certificates for many elderly and Native American voters
  • The possibility of disenfrachisement through long poll lines
  • Unconstitutionality of similar bills in other states (GA, AZ)
  • The end of registration drives at places like the State Fair
  • The bill does not account for absentee ballots
  • The bill includes a fiscal note (providing free ID's for indigent people) without going through the House Ways and Means committee

But the two points made over and over again was that this bill would reduce turnout of eligible voters, and that there was no stasistical or scientific (or even anecdotal!) evidence of voter fraud. One good quote was that this was "a solution in search of a problem."

One can only assume that, if Rep. Emmer had had more of a case, he'd have used some statistics. Particularly given the widely reported election day shenanigans in many swing states (the purging of voter rolls, long lines at polls, deliberate misinformation), you'd think that adding hurdles to voter turnout would be unconsciousable. The fact that every single Republican on the committe voted for the bill is pretty sad.

Here are some more opinions on the subject -- here and here. Even more than social wedge issue posturing, this kind of thing really steams me.

Also:

The chair of the commmtitee is Jeff Johnson (R - Plymouth) is Matt Entenza's opponent for Attorney General, and is widely regarded as one of the MN GOP's rising stars. He raised a few eyebrows on the committee by calling a recess before the vote because one of the Republican members was out of the room. Apparently that kind of thing is quite rare, and added a new layer of slime to the anti-democratic aura of the afternoon.

You can hear the audio for yourself -- at the top of the page here.

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