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Endorsement: Vote no: Amendments wrong way to legislate

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n Editor's note: This endorsement represents the view of Forum Communications, the Enterprise's parent company.

Constitutions are all about the structuring of government; they offer overall guiding principles and framework to help make sure our rulers don't trample on our personal rights and liberties. They're big-picture documents.

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Also, constitutions don't change, generally speaking, so Founders are careful about what to include in them.

Minnesota voters on Nov. 6 can be just as careful with the state's constitution. They can vote "no" on a pair of ballot questions that aren't as constitutional as they are legislative, as they are matters more appropriate for our lawmakers' careful deliberations and decisions.

Changes to the constitution should be rare and under special circumstances. They've been made that way since Minnesota's constitution was adopted in 1857.

Neither the marriage amendment nor the voter ID amendment rise to the level of constitutional consideration.

So how did they get on next month's ballot in the first place?

"It is our responsibility as legislators to create bipartisan bills that will receive the governor's approval," state Sen. Roger Reinert explained in a letter to the editor in March. "In an effort to circumnavigate a governor's veto, lawmakers are using constitutional amendments to create legislation, as opposed to building a larger base of support from fellow legislators that would better ensure a governor's signature -- or, when necessary, override a veto."

Both the marriage and voter ID issues scream for more conversation at the Legislature, not quick and uninformed passage by voters in next month's election.

To some, requiring picture identification at polling places is a way to protect the integrity of elections. Election fraud is nearly nonexistent. "But weak ID laws are an invitation to cheating, and the best time to close an avenue to such behavior is before it happens, not after," as the Chicago Tribune opined this month. So it's on Minnesota's lawmakers to firm up our state's laws. The current amendment proposal doesn't do that. Rather, it's rife with unanswered questions about potentially astronomical costs, just what sort of fraud would be addressed and more.

To others, ID requirements restrict voting, especially among elderly, minority, low-income and student populations, where IDs aren't as common or where obtaining the paperwork to get an ID can be financially or logistically difficult. Such barriers can be removed but aren't even addressed in the current amendment proposal.

In addition, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said many voters don't even know what they're voting for with regard to voter ID. The actual language won't be printed on ballots. And the state doesn't publish full texts in newspapers like it used to until about 20 years ago.

"Since constitutional changes are essentially forever, voters should know what legislators are actually proposing," Ritchie said in a statement yesterday.

That goes for the marriage amendment, too. Same-sex marriage already is against the law in Minnesota. Why add it to the constitution? Would that just end the conversation? It seems a conversation that should be just beginning. Like many in Minnesota, Forum Communications doesn't endorse same-sex marriage. But that doesn't mean disapproval belongs in our constitution.

Minnesota's constitution demands respect and reverence for the important document it is. Misusing it to pass laws when appropriate channels prove unsuccessful cheapens it. And who in Minnesota wouldn't vote "no" to that?

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