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Amendments' altered wording fuels political ire

ST. PAUL - Republicans took Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to court this morning for changing the title of a proposed constitutional amendment, then he changed the title of the second amendment going in front of voters on Nov. 6.

Just after noon, the secretary announced he would require ballots to list "Changes to in-person and absentee voting and voter registration; provisional ballots" as the title to a proposed amendment to require Minnesotans to produce a photographic identification before voting. The Legislature-passed title is: "Photo identification required for voting."

Supporters of the photo ID amendment are considering suing Ritchie, like those who back a constitutional amendment proposal to ban gay marriage. This morning, marriage amendment backers asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to reject a rewritten title.

Ritchie claims that state law gives him the duty to write a title for proposed constitutional amendments. Republicans who pushed both amendment proposals say Ritchie is overstepping his authority.

Republican legislators and Minnesota for Marriage, an umbrella group supporting the marriage amendment, today asked the high court to return the title to how it passed the Legislature: "Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman."

Ritchie rewrote the title last month to be: "Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples."

GOP amendment supporters said Richie, supported by the attorney general's office, exceeded his legal authority to change the title. The title was approved by 49 of 67 state senators last year, including some Democrats who eventually voted against the amendment.

When the bills Republican legislators passed reached Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's desk, he vetoed them, even though he has no say in constitutional amendments. Ritchie said the veto stripped the amendment of its title and it is his job to make sure each constitutional amendment proposal has a title.

"I'm rather saddened to see a secretary of state get involved in a partisan" issue like the proposal, said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chief Senate author of the proposal.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that changing the title violates the state Constitution because that decision belongs to legislators. "Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is attempting to subvert the will of the people of Minnesota."

While there is no deadline, Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said she expects the high court to accept arguments from both sides and hold a hearing within 45 to 60 days, in time to decide the title issue before ballots are printed.

Republicans said Democrats Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson are working to defeat the GOP-backed proposal.

"Our attorney general knows better," Ortman said.

Ritchie and Swanson spokesmen said they would have no comment about the court filing. Both are Democrats.