Presentation on proposed photo I.D. law set Thursday in Detroit Lakes
Is voter fraud enough of a problem in Minnesota to justify the expense of implementing a photo identification system at the polls?
Would an Election Day photo I.D. system, such as that being proposed in legislation currently being considered by the state's lawmakers, prevent most instances of voter fraud?
These questions and more will be discussed at a special presentation on Thursday, April 28 in Detroit Lakes.
Kathy Bonnifield, associate director of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, will present "Fraud Catcher or Vote Snatcher? Proposed Changes in Election Law" at 5:30 p.m. Thursday inside LaBarista Coffee, located at DL's Washington Square Mall.
Bonnifield is a co-author of the 2010 study, "Facts About Ineligible Voting and Voter Fraud in Minnesota," which is based on data collected directly from county attorneys across the state.
"We (Bonnifield and co-author Carol Johnson) formulated a paper survey and sent it out in April (2010)," Bonnifield said in a telephone interview.
The survey was sent to every county attorney's office in the state -- Bonnifield said they opted to collect data from county attorneys rather than auditors because the attorneys are the ones who handle the actual voter fraud investigations.
The survey asked three basic questions: How many instances of voter fraud were investigated in that county and what types of fraud were involved; what was the outcome of those investigations (were there any criminal charges filed, or convictions); and whether they felt voter fraud was a major issue, either locally or statewide.
The paper surveys were followed up by e-mails and phone calls; as a result of that due diligence, Bonnifield said that she and Johnson received an 80 percent response rate -- representing roughly 90 percent of all eligible voters in the 2008 election.
"We really wanted to have as close to a 100 percent response as possible," she said.
What the survey showed was that of all voter fraud investigations reported in the state, over 70 percent were due to one reason -- felons who had voted, or registered to vote.
And of all those investigated instances of voter fraud, "100 percent of all convictions were for the same reason," she added.
"Two thirds of the people convicted for voter fraud were felons who voted, but the other third were felons who registered to vote."
Even registering to vote is a felony offense if you are ineligible to do so, Bonnifield added.
But even convicted felons can have valid photo identification, which means a photo I.D. system would not prevent them from voting.
In February, Bonnifield testified before the State Legislature about the voter I.D. issue, stating that the only type of fraud a photo I.D. requirement would prevent is voter impersonation.
How many instances of voter impersonation have there been in Minnesota? According to the study, which was focused specifically on the 2008 election, there were a mere seven suspected instances of voter impersonation among nearly three million votes cast across the state.
"Basically, the outcome of our investigation was a resounding no -- a photo I.D. requirement in Minnesota is unnecessary," Bonnifield said. "It's a really, really bad idea -- a solution in search of a problem."
Not only that, but in a time when the state is undergoing a severe budget crunch, implementing such a system would be "a needless expense," she added.
"But there is a problem, and that's with felons who vote," Bonnifield continued.
What she and Carol Johnson would like to see instead is legislation requiring that all convicted felons be informed of the status of their voting rights -- both when their rights have been taken away, and when they are restored (which happens once the felon is officially discharged from probation or parole).
"Obviously, it's cost effective," she said. "Felons would simply be told upon sentencing that they have lost their right to vote."
And once a felon has their civil rights restored, a letter would simply be sent out to them informing them of their change in voting status.
One other possible solution, Bonnifield said, would be to change the state's law so that once a felon has been released from jail or prison, their voting rights are automatically restored.
"In North Dakota, felons' rights are restored once they are released," she said. "I think we should look toward that as another solution... one that will help integrate felons back into their communities."
Bonnifield's presentation in Detroit Lakes on Thursday is being hosted by the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters. Hors d'oeuvres will be served, and beverages will be available for purchase. The presentation is free and open to the public.
For additional information, please contact Terry Kalil, Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters, at 218-847-1979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.